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No virus cases reported among HCCC inmates

  • A corrections officer watches the front entrance of Hawaii Community Correctional Center in Hilo on June 1. (KELSEY WALLING/Tribune-Herald)

All inmates at Hawaii Community Correctional Center are free of COVID-19, the state Department of Public Safety announced Thursday.

The news comes more than a month after an outbreak began in the Hilo jail.

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“The Department of Health and HCCC’s health care and security staff continue to conduct mass testing at the facility to make sure the virus is contained, but hearing the ‘all clear’ … is definitely good news,” Tommy Johnson, DPS director for corrections, said in a news release. “I want to thank DOH and our facility staff for working so hard to mitigate spread of the virus and for bringing this outbreak under control.”

“Virus introduction into a transient community, such as the jail population, is still a concern, but I’m confident the facilities will continue to be vigilant with their mitigation efforts,” DPS Director Max Otani said in the release. “I also want to extend a thank you to Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth and … Third Circuit Chief Judge Robert Kim for reaching out to (DPS) to provide assistance.”

Just one active staff case remains.

“We’re extremely proud of the collaboration and teamwork that went in to getting the total active cases at HCCC down to zero,” Cyrus Johnasen, a spokesman for Roth, said in an email to the Tribune-Herald. “There has been constant communication between the Department of Public Safety, Department of Health, Civil Defense and our administration since the onset, which resulted in a well-coordinated recovery. We’d like to thank all of those who played a role in the effort from transporting inmates to offering up vaccines. This was truly a team effort and a great reminder that we are stronger together.”

A total of 243 inmates and 20 staff members tested positive for COVID-19 during the outbreak, which began in late May, but only 214 inmates were listed as “recovered” on the DPS website as of Wednesday.

“Some inmates may leave the facility before they are medically clear,” DPS spokeswoman Toni Schwartz explained. “(DPS) is responsible to provide safe housing and programming for those ordered to our custody by the courts. When the court orders the release of an inmate, (DPS) follows through with the order to release.”

The department cannot “overdetain” inmates, she said.

“If any individual approaching their release date is positive or awaiting a test result, the Department of Health is notified prior to the release so they can provide appropriate care and follow up,” Schwartz said.

In addition to the jail outbreak, a second cluster in a gym — resulting in 13 cases — was investigated on the Big Island in the prior 14 days, according to the DOH’s weekly cluster report issued Thursday.

The report does not identify where clusters are located.

According to data from the DOH, 31 cases have been reported in Hilo in the past 14 days, and 35 new COVID-19 cases have been reported in Kailua-Kona during the same time frame.

The state on Thursday also announced it is finalizing preparations for the July 8 launch of a vaccine exception program for domestic, Hawaii-bound travelers vaccinated in the United States.

The move will allow these travelers to bypass the state’s quarantine and pretravel testing requirements with proof of vaccination.

According to the state, travelers vaccinated in the U.S. or U.S. territories can participate in the exception program 15 days after receiving their final vaccine dose.

Hawaii-bound travelers should upload a COVID-19 vaccination record card from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a Vaccine Administration Management System printout, or a U.S. Department of Defense DD Form 2766C to their Safe Travels account prior to travel.

Travelers also must sign the online legal attestations on Safe Travels, confirming the document is true and accurate, and should bring a hard copy of their vaccination card to show screeners at the gate prior to boarding and/or upon arrival to the state.

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The program does not cover international travelers, the state said.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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