DPS confirms one staff and 12 inmates test positive for coronavirus

Coronavirus

HONOLULU (KHON2) — The Department of Public Safety confirms that one staff and 12 inmates test positive for coronavirus.

There was one Halawa Correctional Facility inmate, 11 additional Oahu Community Correctional Center inmates and one Women’s Community Correctional Center staff that tested positive for COVID-19.

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At the Halawa Correctional Facility. The one inmate was new and already in mandatory intake quarantine. The inmate was was placed in medical isolation.
That inmate’s cellmate tested negative.

The HCF inmate was a new intake who was already in mandatory intake quarantine. The inmate had a cellmate who tested negative. The positive inmate was placed in medical isolation.

The WCCC staffer got tested on their own on Aug. 13 when this person last worked. The result was reported on Aug. 17.

DPS is working with DOH on contact tracing at both facilities.

There was a mass testing at OCCC. There were 49 more inmate test results returned Aug. 17 where 11 were positive and 38 negative. All remaining inmates will be tested in the coming days. The 10 OCCC staff test results were all negative.

Workers said the Department of Public Safety isn’t doing enough to keep everyone safe.

One ACO said it’s good that inmates will start to be released from the jail because conditions there continue to deteriorate.

“If we release a good amount of them it cuts down on our exposure, it cuts down on their exposure, it makes it safer and it gives us a chance to quarantine ourselves if we have to because we don’t need to run up as much staff present,” the ACO said.

He said several officers have been working 24-hour shifts and officers are being told to work while sick.

“Yeah and the department could amend their attendance program, but they’re not doing that because the people that are asymptomatic are still expected to come in,” he said.

DPS denied the claim and said staff are not asked to come to work if they are sick and are told to go home if they are feeling ill.

He said many of the ACO’s haven’t been given proper PPE and many are worried because “we go from housing unit to housing unit to housing unit without getting screened and between that  the spread of it could be just as bad right there,” he said. “There’s no protocol set for our screening between shifts or between posts.”

The ACO has been working at OCCC for several years, he said between the outbreak and this past weekend’s riots, he’s never seen it so bad.

“We’ve had big incidents in the past but never this many within this short amount of time,” he said.

“They’re [inmates] probably scared, they’re frustrated, and they’re angry and any one of those emotions is dangerous for us,” he explained.

“We need adequate staffing, we again need adequate PPE, we need the freedom to do what we need to do to control the situation,” he said.

“We lack leadership, we lack accountability, our department is a joke. This is the only time in my career I’ve been ashamed to say I work for Public Safety, I’m ashamed,” he said.

The officer’s union said the workers are working in an unsafe environment. The UPW said testing is limited and employees are not being given hazard pay.

“If they have to go in and work in modules where they have inmates who have coronavirus they should be provided maybe with full protective gear to go in to deal with that and they just aren’t,” explained Liz Ho, Administrator for UPW, AFSCME.

“Workers have told us they find out through the media how many inmates have tested positive or how many of their own coworkers have tested positive, it’s never coming directly from the department,” Ho explained when she said the department needs better communication with their employees.

“I’ve spoken to members out there who tell me they are afraid to go home, that they are staying away from their spouse, children,” she explained about workers fears of infecting their family members. “Just last week I spoke to a member who told me he sent his son and wife to stay with their mother, his mother-in-law because he’s just afraid of the exposure.”

In a response, the Department of Public Safety said workers must work longer shifts by law due to short-staffing.  

“Each facility is dealing with unique situations, including short-staffing caused by the strain of this outbreak. By law, essential security posts have to be filled, which requires holding over some employees to work longer shifts in order to maintain adequate coverage of the essential posts.”

As for hazard pay, the DPS said it is up to the Hawaii Department of Human Resources and Development to approve of the union’s request for hazard pay.

Adding, the Adult Corrections Officer attendance program and applicable exemptions remain in effect.

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