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90% of Waiawa’s inmate population has tested positive for COVID in recent months

Updated: Dec. 7, 2020 at 6:40 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The COVID outbreak at the Waiawa Correctional Facility is more widespread than previous thought.

90% of the prison’s population has either gotten sick or have recovered from the virus.

While the number of active inmate infections has dropped from 88 to 68 over the weekend, Hawaii News Now has learned that another 142 inmates were sick in recent months and have recovered.

“It’s just horrible that they can’t prevent the outbreak and haven’t taken sufficient steps to minimize any kind of exposure of people,” said attorney Eric Seitz, who has filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of prisoners and adult corrections officers who have gotten infected.

Seitz said the widespread infection rate at Waiawa is shocking because it comes months after a huge outbreak at the Oahu Community Correctional Center in which prison officials promised they’d learned how to manage the virus.

Prison reform advocate Kat Brady said she’s been warning state officials about the problem since March and remembers when the state bragged about its correctional facilities being COVID-free.

“It’s so frustrating that the Lieutenant Governor said, ‘Well, you know, prisons are safer than Costco,’” Brady said.

“It’s very concerning to me that the powers that be in the state have totally ignored people who are incarcerated.”

The Department of Public Safety provided a breakdown of the number of infected Waiawa inmates...
The Department of Public Safety provided a breakdown of the number of infected Waiawa inmates and those recovering. The numbers show that 90 percent of the prison population was infected by COVID sometime or another.(Department of Public Safety)

Prison officials said they have taken steps to quarantine sick inmates, have restricted prisoner movements to prevent further transmission and are monitoring inmates for symptoms of upper respiratory illness.

They said the number of active infections at Waiawa are actually dropping.

“The total number of active inmate cases at Waiawa Correctional Facility has continually decreased while the number of recovered continues to steadily increase,” the department said in an email.

“The majority of the WCF inmate population is clear of the virus.”

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