Some inmates being released from Oahu Community Correctional Center are being isolated or quarantined at Honolulu hotels if they have either tested positive for COVID-19, are awaiting test results or have been in contact with someone testing positive, joining other local residents in similar situations, the Department of Health confirmed Monday.
Health Department officials said they could not say Monday night how many former inmates are being housed at hotels, but stressed that, like all others eligible to be isolated or quarantined, they must show they cannot quarantine or isolate in residences on their own. They also declined to say where the rooms are located.
“Inmates are being placed in isolation/quarantine units at hotels based on their eligibility and appropriateness for placement,” Health Department spokeswoman Janice Okubo said. “A few have already been placed in the last few weeks. Inmates who have been released are treated the same as people in the community who need support for isolation and quarantine to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
Officials with the DOH Behavioral Health Services Division told the Hawaii Correctional Facilities Oversight Commission on Monday that they are now taking the lead on the COVID-19 testing of inmates at OCCC and other correctional facilities on the island.
Amid a flurry of COVID-19 positive cases at OCCC, the Hawaii Supreme Court earlier this month agreed to a petition by the Office of the Public Defender to release as many nonviolent inmates as possible from the Kalihi facility as quickly as possible. As of Saturday, 95 had been released directly as a result of the order.
An unknown number of others have been released as part of the normal course of the judicial process. Similarly, new inmates continue to arrive daily.
Deputy Health Director Edward Mersereau, who helms the division, told the five-member commission that hotel rooms and related services such as “low-level medical support and check- in” are being provided to the homeless, former inmates and others who cannot self-isolate on their own.
“We’re really working with (the Department of) Public Safety to identify who is coming out and whether or not they can safely isolate or quarantine in their own homes or some other situation to deal with what they current have,” Mersereau said.
“That’s a difficult thing to coordinate, because oftentimes we don’t know when people are being released until that very same day,” Mersereau said.
“We want to avoid having this cause new pockets of transmission communitywide in these types of congregate settings,” said Sarah Kemble, deputy state epidemiologist.
“The challenge and concern would be where would they have an appropriate and safe place to complete isolation and quarantine after being released,” Kemble said. “Because many people, as we’re seeing, are going on to congregate settings, be it a shelter, a halfway house program, recovery program, and we’ve already seen some spillover into those settings because people have left while incubating before the scope of the outbreak was defined and they have led to some additional transmission in other settings.”
Public Safety reported Monday that to date it knows of 242 inmates and 47 adult corrections officers or others who have tested positive for the coronavirus.
OCCC’s entire inmate population of just under 1,000 have been offered tests, but not all have agreed to take them, Kemble said.
Those who are most severely symptomatic are recommended for medical isolation. Only one inmate has been hospitalized, and that person is in stable condition, she said.
Kemble also reported that three OCCC employees have been hospitalized, two of whom are in intensive care units.
Two adult corrections officers, who spoke to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on condition they not be identified, said they know of five colleagues who have been hospitalized, three of whom who are in ICUs.
The DOH officials said they are attempting to test inmates twice, and later clarified that it involves both those still at OCCC and those who have left.