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226 inmates have received first vaccine dose at MCCC

Comparing vaccine rates between jails difficult due to changing population

The Maui Community Correctional Center is pictured in March. A total of 226 MCCC inmates have gotten their first COVID-19 dose as of Thursday. However, the Department of Public Safety said it’s difficult to compare vaccination rates between jails given that the inmate population changes daily. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

A total of 226 Maui Community Correctional Center inmates had received their first vaccination shot as of Thursday, up from the approximately 188 who received their first shots earlier this year during a COVID-19 outbreak in the facility.

“Our health care and security staff are doing everything they can to encourage inmates to get vaccinated,” Toni Schwartz, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Safety, said Monday. “They frequently go back to inmates who have said ‘no’ to see if they will reconsider, in hopes that they will get the shot before they are released.”

The last time the Wailuku jail had a confirmed positive inmate test result was on May 19, and there are currently no active cases at the facility, Schwartz confirmed.

From February through early April, an outbreak at the jail grew to around 95 cases, spurred on by the highly transmissible B.1.429 variant first found in California, according to health officials. A total of 98 inmates overall at MCCC have tested positive for the virus during the pandemic, according to DPS data as of Monday.

Currently, a larger cluster is spreading at the Hawaii Community Correctional Center on Hawaii island, where a total of 204 inmates have tested positive as of Monday, according to DPS data.

A total of 160 HCCC inmates have received at least one shot, Schwartz said on Tuesday.

Schwartz said the department has been working closely with the state Department of Health and the District Health Offices on each island to “coordinate and provide opportunities for inmates to receive the vaccine on a voluntary basis.”

Comparing vaccination rates between jails — and determining whether it’s preventing outbreaks — is difficult, given that jail populations are transient and change by the hour as courts order intake and release throughout the day, Schwartz explained. Because inmates are constantly moving in and out, those who received their first doses through the Public Safety Department may no longer be at the facilities, making it hard for the department to give a total number or percentage of detainees who are fully vaccinated, Schwartz said.

However, the department was able to report in April that 132 inmates had gotten second shots at MCCC.

When asked if the department thought the increase in vaccinations at MCCC has helped keep cases down, Schwartz did not answer directly but said that “vaccinations are a critical part of the Department of Public Safety’s efforts to mitigate spread of the virus among our employees as well as the inmate population.”

She said the department “continually puts out information” to staff on vaccination opportunities and encourages inmates and staff at the facilities to voluntarily get tested and vaccinated.

Jail staff are not required to report their private medical information, including whether they have been vaccinated, Schwartz said.

MCCC, which has a design bed capacity of 209 and an operational bed capacity of 301, is currently housing 312 inmates, according to a DPS population report released June 7. However, some of the 226 inmates who’ve been vaccinated at the Maui jail may no longer be there.

HCCC, which has a design capacity of 206 and an operational capacity of 226, had 344 inmates.

Overcrowding was one of the factors that made the MCCC cluster hard to contain, the department said at the time. Staffing shortages were also a challenge, as the jail would have been able to open closed dorms to ease the overcrowding if there had been more staff. Given the difficulties of a congregate setting, DPS officials said that vaccination is a critical part in mitigating the spread of the virus.

During the cluster, inmates’ families and supporters called for action and held signs in front of the facility urging for more be done to halt the spread of the virus. They were concerned over proper isolation and quarantine of inmates, proper care for the sick inmates, mask-wearing, regular testing of staff and adequate distancing.

DPS said it followed its pandemic plan based on state Health Department and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for correctional facilities, including medically isolating, quarantining and cohorting inmates based on the guidelines. The plan also includes, but is not limited to mask-wearing, testing and proper hygiene.

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

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