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More than 300 Hawaii inmates at Arizona prison test positive for COVID-19

After an outbreak of COVID-19 among Hawaii inmates housed in a private Arizona prison, a mass testing was ordered by Hawaii officials and carried out Thursday, revealing up to 43% tested could have the virus with only a little over half testing negative.

Of the 1,011 Hawaii inmates tested Thursday at Saguaro Correctional Center, 317 (31%) tested positive for COVID-19, the Department of Public Safety announced Monday in a news release.

Another 46 (5%) inmates’ results were inconclusive, 73 (7%) are still pending and 575 (57%) tested negative.

The positive number surpasses the outbreak at Oahu Community Correctional Center, where 309 people — 53 staff and 256 inmates — by Aug. 27 had been in­- fected. It was the largest cluster of COVID-19 cases in the state since the beginning of the pandemic.

Some 1,081 Hawaii inmates are currently housed at Saguaro.

According to Monday’s daily Public Safety update, 1,123 at Saguaro have been tested, and some already were confirmed sick before Thursday. Four have recovered.

There were six hospitalized and 378 active positive cases as of Monday. The 378 remain in medical isolation at the prison.

A 61-year-old Hawaii man at the Eloy, Ariz., prison died Thursday, but the official cause of death is pending a medical examiner review, and notification of next of kin is underway, Public Safety said in a written statement Friday. DPS provided no further updates Monday when requested.

As of Monday, Public Safety did not list any deaths attributed to the new corona­virus at Saguaro.

Those Hawaii inmates who tested negative or have a pending test are being quarantined as a precaution.

All negative inmates will be retested in three to seven days, following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations, Public Safety said.

The inmate who died was found unresponsive in his bed. Prison medical staff called 911 while administering lifesaving measures, the Department of Public Safety said.

Eloy emergency medical technicians arrived on-site at 10:15 a.m., continued CPR, and the inmate was pronounced dead at 10:17 a.m.

The facility will conduct an internal investigation, and Eloy police were notified.

As of Oct. 27 the prison reported 10 active staff cases, and 31 staff had recovered.

Public Safety Acting Director Fred Hyun said Saguaro has no issue with overcrowding and is able to provide adequate space for isolation and quarantine.

In August an alarming outbreak of COVID-19 at Oahu Community Correctional Center occurred, resulting in major changes including the voluntary departure of Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda.

Public Safety then coordinated with the Department of Health to test all OCCC inmates. The first round of mass testing was completed Aug. 20. The Health Department continuously tests inmates and staff, and over the weekend 30 inmates’ test results came back with two positive and 28 negative results.

Public Safety’s Health Care Division is working with the Health Department and the Hawaii National Guard and community partners to conduct mass testing at all other correctional facilities statewide.

Of the 416 OCCC inmates who tested positive since the beginning of the pandemic, 393 inmates have recovered and 14 remain active cases.

Also, 89 Public Safety staff at OCCC who tested positive have recovered; 10 cases remain active.

Only two other positive cases have been reported: one each at the Halawa Correctional Facility and the Hawaii Community Correctional Center.

Early in the pandemic, advocacy groups in Hawaii and on the mainland warned about the need to bring the prison and jail populations down for fear of outbreaks in overcrowded facilities.

It is unclear how widespread the problem is at Saguaro as CoreCivic, the prison management company, has not released the figures of COVID-19 positive cases among prisoners from Nevada and Kansas also housed at the facility.

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