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150 MCCC inmates receive vaccinations

Maui County high counts may be due to jail, household spread

A total of 150 inmates were vaccinated at the Maui Community Correctional Center on Monday. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

A total of 150 inmates at Maui Community Correctional Center were vaccinated against COVID-19 on Monday as officials work to contain an outbreak at the facility, according to the state Department of Health.

The DOH’s Maui District Health Office mobile team will be back at the jail in a little over three weeks to give second doses, said Bridget Velasco, public health planner with the Maui District Health Office’s Office of Public Health Preparedness.

The first COVID-19 case at the Wailuku jail was reported on Feb. 1. Since then, there have been 29 cases, with 24 active and five recovered. The state Department of Public Safety has said that no jail staff members have tested positive for the virus. Staff have already received their vaccinations, the Health Department said.

MCCC had 296 inmates as of Feb. 15.

Maui County Deputy Managing Director Josiah Nishita said during a news conference on Monday afternoon that there were 30 inmates in medical isolation and 18 inmates in quarantine at the jail.

Mayor Michael Victorino added that a recent spike in daily case counts on Maui may be attributed to the jail. Victorino said he would not remove the jail cases from Maui’s numbers as former Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell did late last year.

Over the last couple of days, Maui’s case counts have been equal to or higher than Oahu’s, which typically reports the highest daily numbers in the state. On Monday, Maui had 28 new cases, while Oahu had 21.

Spencer Headley, epidemiological specialist with the Maui District Health Office, said that the recent high counts are due to the spread of the virus in households. He said during the news conference that the office has contacted those households and a received a “good response rate” of those wanting to get tested, many of whom ending up testing positive.

“It’s direct contact,” he said. “We are not looking at a huge increase in community spread. It’s much more targeted than that.”

He added that while there are more cases, in “terms of huge increase risk to the community, that’s not what those numbers represent.”

Nishita added that the vaccines that were delayed by winter weather on the Mainland last week are scheduled to arrive on Maui this week.

On Monday, Maui County received 2,500 doses of Moderna and 2,340 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, according to DOH spokesman Brooks Baehr.

The Maui District Health Office received 1,500 vaccine doses on Monday; Maui Memorial Medical Center and sites on Molokai, Lanai and in Hana also received vaccines directly, Velasco said.

She added that the district office will be able to run its clinic at the University of Hawaii at Maui College as scheduled on Wednesday for those who have already been contacted by her office.

Demand for the vaccine is still strong. Kaiser Permanente’s Maui Lani Medical Office is administering shots, but is booked for the next several weeks, said spokeswoman Laura Lott.

“We are limited by the vaccine supply. When more vaccine becomes available, we’ll be able to increase the number of vaccine appointments,” she said.

Victorino also said at the news conference:

¯ Maui County is working with the state Department of Education on upcoming graduation schedules and is looking at the possibility of having ceremonies in person. When asked why businesses can hold large gatherings such as luaus while families cannot, Victorino said that commercial entities follow strict protocols such as social distancing and other requirements.

¯ The county is aware of a social media post showing a crowded gathering of visitors on a grassy portion of a beach at Whaler’s Village in Kaanapali over the weekend. Victorino said the county has seen the video, told police and spoken to Whaler’s Village and the entity involved to “put them on notice.” Victorino did not name the business.

“It’s not something we tolerate,” he said.

He added that the county can also shut down businesses for 24 hours or more if they fail to follow the emergency rules.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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