State scrambles to vaccinate more inmates as it grapples with ongoing outbreak

Published: Jun. 3, 2021 at 2:42 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 3, 2021 at 5:48 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii Community Correctional Center reported 22 new COVID infections among inmates and two more among staff members on Thursday.

The new cases bring the number inmate cases at the Hilo facility to 99.

Thirteen staff members have also been confirmed positive.

Public Safety officials have scrambled to contain the growing outbreak at HCCC, where some 340 people are incarcerated. That’s well above capacity.

Earlier this week, Lt. Gov. Josh Green also noted that vaccination rates in the facility ― among inmates and correctional officers ― remains low despite efforts to get the shot to more people.

In a news release Thursday, the state Public Safety Department said it is encouraging all staff and inmates to get voluntarily vaccinated.

“Vaccinations are a critical part of the Department of Public Safety’s efforts to mitigate spread of the virus among employees as well as the inmate population,” said Public Safety Director Max Otani.

“The constant intake and release of pre-trial detainees in the jails make it difficult for PSD to fully vaccinate this population, but facility health care staff and DOH are working hard to educate inmates on the safety of the vaccine.”

Each week, prisoners who agree are getting COVID shots.

The Public Safety department recently released video and interviews of inmates being administered the vaccines.

OCCC inmate Keoni Kamahalohanuilai was among them. He said his family urged him to get the shot.

“They said take the damn thing,” said Kamahalohanuilai. “I did it because my family them did it. I live because the coronavirus is crazy out there.”

“The thing is pretty good. Better safe than sorry,” said Waiawa Correctional Facility inmate Jai Carlos, who was also vaccinated.

WCF inmate Miguel Washington says he had mild case of COVID and got his second shot. “I caught COVID. It was OK. It wasn’t too crazy,” said Washington.

“Anybody who’s worried about getting it, I think it’s proven that if we all get it, we can open the tiers.”

Meanwhile, as the Public Safety Department tries to tamp down the virus at the Hilo jail, officials say one strategy in crowded prison conditions is to group sick inmates together.

“Once someone has COVID and other individuals do, too, they can be together,” said Amy Curtis, chief administrator of the Health Department’s Adult Mental Health Division.

Project Vision has a contract with the state and has been delivering vaccines in the prison system as quickly as possible.

“We had many individuals say please don’t forget about me. Come back when it’s my turn,” said Darrah Kauhane, executive director Project Vision.

The Department of Public Safety says it doesn’t know much of the inmate population is vaccinated because people come in and out of jails.

It did release these numbers of shot administered:

  • Hawaii Community Correctional Center: 140
  • Halawa Correctional Facility: 723
  • Kauai Community Correctional Center: 62
  • Kulani Correctional Facility: 122
  • Maui Community Correctional Center: 216
  • Oahu Community Correctional Center: 463
  • Women’s Community Correctional Center: 138
  • Waiawa Correctional Facility: 206
  • Federal Detention Facility 11
  • Saguaro Correctional Center 302

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