HILO — A coronavirus outbreak at a Big Island jail is growing as state officials say a reluctance to get vaccinated is driving the spread.
The state Department of Public Safety announced Tuesday that the outbreak at the Hawaii Community Correctional Center has grown to 77 inmates and nine staff members, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported.
Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Toni Schwartz said contact tracing is ongoing.
“The jail population is transient, and as long as inmates continue to come in from the community, there will always be concern for new virus introduction,” Schwartz said.
A quarantine is in place for all inmate housing and officials have suspended movement outside the facility.
The Department of Health and Hawaii National Guard are helping with COVID-19 testing.
Mayor Mitch Roth said in a statement Tuesday that because employees are being infected, the community needs to be aware and careful.
“With those employees being from and very much a part of our communities here on Hawaii Island, we are asking our residents to remain cautious,” Roth said. “What is happening at HCCC is a very real and stark reminder of how fast the virus can spread in such a short amount of time.”
Roth encouraged people to get vaccinated.
Lt. Gov. Josh Green, who is also a Big Island physician, said Monday that vaccine hesitancy is contributing to outbreaks at Hawaii jails.
“I’ll be straight with you. Some of our public safety folks have been reluctant to get vaccinated, and that’s not something I am proud of,” he said. “I think that everyone who works front-facing others, especially those who are vulnerable, must get vaccinated.”
Schwartz said the vaccine has been offered to all employees.
“Staff are not required to report their private medical information, including if they have been vaccinated,” she said.
Green said only 25% to 50% of inmates have been inoculated and that distrust in authority is leading to more reluctance to get vaccinated.
Schwartz said inmates have been offered the vaccine on a voluntary basis.
Because Hawaii Community Correctional Center is a jail and holds pretrial detainees, the population is “transient and changes by the hour,” Schwartz said.
“Because jail custodies are only detained for a short amount of time, it’s not possible to give a total number or percentage of detainees who are fully vaccinated,” she added.
There are 340 inmates at the jail, although operational capacity is 226, Schwartz said.
Hawaii County’s test positivity rate is now the highest in the state at 3.4%.