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Jail battles growing COVID-19 cluster

It’s the second outbreak this year at the Maui facility

The Maui Community Correctional Center is pictured in March. The jail is battling a growing cluster of COVID-19 cases for the second time this year, with 21 new positive inmate cases reported Wednesday. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Jail officials attributed Maui Community Correctional Center’s recent rise in COVID-19 cases to “the rapid community spread across the state” as the outbreak grew to 60 active cases among inmates and staff as of Wednesday.

The state Department of Public Safety reported 58 more inmate test results for the Maui jail on Wednesday, including 21 positive results and 37 negative.

There are now 43 active inmate cases and 17 active staff member cases, according to the department’s Health Care Division.

Public Safety spokeswoman Toni Schwartz said the first two inmate cases associated with the current cluster were confirmed on Aug. 2.

When asked if the more contagious delta variant could be to blame, Schwartz said the state Department of Health is conducting contact tracing and investigation. She added that “it’s safe to say” that the preliminary cause appears to be from rapid community spread.

Some inmates this week were not allowed to appear for court hearings in person or even by videoconference.

One inmate who appeared by videoconference Tuesday said inmates were not being let out of a module. He said those in the top part of a housing area were in quarantine for 20 days while those downstairs were not.

This is the second time this year that a cluster has broken out at the Wailuku jail.

From February to April, 94 inmates and two staff members were infected with the virus. Health officials attributed the outbreak to the B.1.429 variant that had been widespread in California and more transmissible than the original COVID strain.

When asked what steps the jail is taking to stop the current cluster from growing, Schwartz reiterated comments earlier this year that “the jail population is transient and as long as inmates continue to be sent in from the community, there will always be concern for new virus introduction.”

She also repeated that the Public Safety Department “is doing everything in its power to mitigate community spread in to the facilities.”

The department will also continue to follow its pandemic plan based on Health Department and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for correction facilities.

Family and friends of inmates and jail staff told The Maui News that personal protective equipment and hygiene items, including soap, had been lacking, although department officials said last week that those reports were inaccurate.

Schwartz said mitigation measures include requiring all inmates and staff to follow all safety and sanitation protocols, including wearing a barrier mask over their nose and mouth in inmate housing and common areas, frequently washing hands and maintaining adequate social distancing to the extent possible.

She added that health care staff are available to inmates to discuss COVID-19 and also offer the vaccine every day.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com. Staff Writer Lila Fujimoto contributed to this report.

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