HCCC remains in quarantine: Inmate COVID-19 test results pending, court operations affected

  • The Hawaii Community Correctional Center is seen in 2020. (KELSEY WALLING/Tribune-Herald)

No new positive COVID-19 tests were reported Tuesday among inmates or staff at Hawaii Community Correctional Center, which remains in quarantine after an employee recently tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the Department of Public Safety confirmed.

The department announced Monday the Hilo jail was placed in quarantine, per its pandemic protocol, after the employee who had last worked at the facility April 7 tested positive for COVID-19. Two additional staff members have been told to self-quarantine until cleared by the state Department of Health, Toni Schwartz, Department of Public Safety public information officer, said Tuesday.

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No inmates have reported symptoms, however. As of the most recent population report issued April 5, Hawaii Community Correctional Center reported housing 298 inmates, which exceeds operational capacity by 72 persons.

“Facility health care staff and the Department of Health have initiated contact tracing and testing with the assistance of Premier Medical Group,” she said. “All Hawaii Community Correctional Center (HCCC) staff and inmates were offered the test. Results are pending.”

Schwartz said the preliminary cause of the positive staff case appears to be from the community. Both staff and inmates are regularly tested for the virus.

The public information officer, however, was unable to comment on whether the staff member that tested positive had received a COVID-19 vaccine, stating staff are not required to report “private medical information, including if they have been vaccinated.”

All front-line staff were offered the vaccine through community distribution clinics and mobile points of dispensing, of PODs, however. Schwartz didn’t have a figure on how many or what percentage of staff have been inoculated at HCCC.

She said the Department of Public Safety is working closely with the Department of Health and the District Health Offices on each island to coordinate and provide opportunities for inmates to receive the vaccine on a voluntary basis as it becomes available for the various categories/priority levels for vaccine distribution, she said.

To date, 31% of HCCC inmates who qualify have opted to receive the vaccine, she said. Based on the April 5 population report, that equates to 92 inmates. At Kulani Correctional Facility, the state prison located southeast of Hilo, 86% of inmates have gotten the shot. Based on the April 5 population report, that equates to 126 inmates.

“Our health care and safety staff are doing everything they can to encourage inmates to get vaccinated,” she said.

The precautionary move to put the facility in quarantine, suspending the movement of inmates within and outside the facility, lasts 10 days per guidelines provided by the state Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to Schwartz. Inmates remain in their housing units until cleared by health care staff.

“All inmate movement is suspended in order to prevent possible spread of the virus. The facilities [sic] pandemic protocol includes staying in constant contact with the courts to notify them of an inmate’s status and pending testing. The courts will then decide to reschedule the appearance. Inmates cannot move to the video conferencing location in the facility until cleared by medical staff,” Schwartz said.

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The quarantine resulted in no in-custody cases appearing in person or via videoconference on Monday in the 3rd Circuit, requiring new court dates to be set. Several jury trials, including one for a man accused of attempted murder of a police officer in 2019 in Kailua-Kona, were also delayed, but should resume next week.

“The courts and (the Department of) Public Safety are taking all precautions to protect the public and operations are resuming,” 3rd Circuit Chief Judge Robert D.S. Kim said Tuesday. “For us, safety is No. 1. We will not ever compromise on that.”

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