The Latest: COVID-19 Explodes At OCCC With 116 Cases, Expands Among Homeless; 355 Cases, 2 Dead

Aug 13, 2020

Updated: 8/13/2020, 10:33 a.m.

COVID-19 cases are surging among prison inmates and expanding among the homeless, both of whose living conditions make spread of the virus especially difficult to control. According to the state Department of Health today, cases at the Oahu Community Correctional Center now number 92 inmates and 24 adult correctional officers who have tested positive. Nineteen homeless in Oahu shelters and related programs have done so as well. The OCCC numbers helped push the state daily total today to a record 355 cases. Two Oahu men also died, health officials said. That brought Hawaii's coronavirus death count to 40.

It wasn't too long ago that prison officials and homeless advocates proudly pointed to the lack of reported COVID-19 cases in each of their populations. The recent surge has changed all of that, increasing concerns about the virus' spread among the highly vulnerable and those who have contact with them. 

The state Department of Public Safety said in an update earlier today that 70 more OCCC inmates have the virus, bringing the total at the facility to 86. Seven more OCCC adult correctional officers have also tested positive, for an ACO total of 14. All together, the number of cases at the Kalihi facility now stand at 100.

DPS also earlier reported one case at Halawa Correctional Facility, two at the Waiawa Correctional Facility and one in the Sheriff Division. All together, the department now has 104 inmates and staff who have tested positive.

DPS and the state Department of Health have been conducting mass testing at OCCC. About 110 inmates were tested with 70 positive and 40 negative. Another 63 were tested yesterday with the results pending. Remaining inmates will be tested in coming days, DPS said.

Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda said he expects more positives as testing continues. "We will continue to be vigilant in our efforts to mitigate the spread of this virus," he said.

DPS has also hired a cleaning and sanitation company to deep clean the OCCC quarantine housing and intake areas as soon as possible, the department said in a news release. Transports to court from all Oahu facilities have been suspended through Friday and video hearings will be held when possible.

The state and city are also working with the Institute for Human Services Sumner Men’s Shelter in Iwilei to isolate and quarantine individuals at the shelter. There are 20 cases there under investigation. 

Health Director Bruce Anderson advised other institutions to prepare for outbreaks in their facilities.

“With the virus actively being spread throughout the community on O‘ahu, congregate settings like prisons and institutions are at increased risk of introduction and should prepare as the Dept. of Public Safety and IHS have done,” Anderson said. “These agencies were ready and stepped into action quickly, working with the DOH on control and prevention measures to protect those at risk and the community. ” 

--HPR News Staff

Oahu homeless coronavirus cases increasing

As of Tuesday, there were 19 COVID-positive cases in various homeless shelters and outreach programs on O'ahu, said Marc Alexander, executive director of the city Office of Housing.


"Five shelters have been impacted and of that 19, two have recovered and returned to where they were," he said. Those testing positive have been quarantined at the state's temporary quarantine and isolation center in Iwilei.

"We've been able to meet the need with some flexing and adjustment. For example, some less acute clients we've been able to move to a hotel...for quarantine purposes," he said. 

Regarding reports that some COVID-19 homeless walked out of the Iwilei center, Alexander said private security has been hired for the facility but the homeless are not held there against their will.

Two people who were COVID-positive left the center, although one returned and the other was later detained by order of the state health director, according to Hawaii News Now.

"When you have a threat to public health and safety, then my understanding is that's when a director's order can be appropriate. But it's something people use as a last resort," Alexander said.

The city has had 116 people move through the Iwilei center and "we've had a couple of challenges," he said. "Those two challenges have been more recent, and we're tweaking the system to address those." 

Institute for Human Services Executive Director Connie Mitchell said there are 13 active cases at the IHS men's facility, also located in Iwilei.


"My immediate concerns are just trying to contain the spread of the virus, making sure the staff are not affected either. We have limited staff, so if we don't have enough staff, there is the potential we would need to close down our shelter. So we really do need to look at protecting everyone at the shelter, whether they're guests or staff," she said.


Alexander credits the Honolulu Police Department's tent facility program at Keehi Lagoon known as POST as a first step off the street into shelter. It averages 35 people, and can accommodate up to 200 tents. He said clients there are linked to the quarantine center for testing, isolation and quarantine.


"As Eddie Mercereau from Department of Health would say, they're linked and synced. What I think we see happening is a system is being put into place to help address the needs of this very vulnerable population. But it's also working as a proof of concept for how we can do quarantine and isolation better and well for the general population," he said.


According to Alexander, negotiations for additional isolation and quarantine capacity could be finalized in the next couple of weeks.


--HPR's Noe Tanigawa


Expert estimates 1 in 50 likely positive in Hawaii


About one in every fifty people in the state is likely infected with COVID-19. That’s according to infectious disease expert Tim Brown with the East-West Center.


He says the ratio is based on the number of active cases in the state and an estimate from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC says for every positive case reported – about another ten are undetected.

With more than 2-thousand active cases in Hawaii – over 20-thousand may also be infected statewide.

Brown says that number is very alarming.

"A large proportion of those people 50-60% of them are either never going to have symptoms, or they will be in a pre-symptomatic phase – but they can still spread the virus," Brown said.


"So you won’t see these people coughing, you won’t see them showing up with fevers. They’re basically out there with the potential to spread the virus, but there’s no outward sign of that.


"The other issue is that it means there’s a high probability if you’re going to a supermarket, and there are 50 people in there, somebody with COVID is in that supermarket with you."


Brown says this is not the time for people to be lax about wearing face masks or keeping their distance from others.

--HPR's Casey Harlow


Where we stand


The Hawaii Department of Health reported two deaths and a record 355 COVID-19 cases today, with 86 of the total attributable to the outbreak at Oahu Community Correctional Center. The two deaths are Oahu men over 60 years old.


The latest cases increased the state total to 4,312 -- 3,900 on Oahu, 139 on Hawaiii Island, 198 in Maui County, and 52 on Kauai. Twenty-three cases were diagnosed out of state. The death toll now stands at 40.



Yesterday, the department reported four deaths of Oahu men and 202 new cases.


Two of the four deaths were reported Tuesday but added to yesterday's numbers. Both men were over 60 years old. The additional two victims reported yesterday were between 40 and 59 years old, and at least one who had underlying conditions. 

The state is now reporting the percent of positive results in tests, saying that measure has remained relatively unchanged at 5.9%. The World Health Organization says before a region can relax restrictions and begin reopening, it should be at or below 5% for 14 days.

Among other new cases:

• There were five restaurant clusters with a few employers at each location and no transmission to customers identified at this time, the health department said yesterday. An employee potluck and breaks at Honolulu Hale may be possible sources for the outbreak that infected 11 city workers and largely closed down the City Hall building.

• Another TheBus operator tested positive for COVID-19, Oahu Transit Services that operates the bus and handivan system reported yesterday. The operator was on leave but had visited the Kalihi Bus Facility last week Wednesday and developed symptoms that evening. The operator reported the positive test this week. The employee had last worked on June 17 and did not have symptoms at that time. The case brings the the total positive cases for TheBus and TheHandi-Van to 7. 

• Bank of Hawaii confirmed one employee at its main branch in downtown Honolulu has tested positve for COVID-19. The employee last worked on Friday, typically from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The bank became aware of the positive test yesterday. The worker had no close contact with customers. Employees who turn out to have had close contact with the employee will be tested and asked to self-quarantine. The main branch was sanitized after hours on Tuesday. The branch reopened yesterday.

--HPR's News Staff

Kauai seeks to limit outside gatherings

With about 50 cases of COVID-19, Kauai is the county that’s been least impacted by the virus. And it wants to keep it that way.

Kauai is asking the governor to approve further restrictions on group sizes to help stem the spread of the virus.

“While we have been able to successfully manage COVID outbreaks on our island so far, we have to pay attention to what is happening on O‘ahu and work to prevent that from happening here," said Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami during his COVID video update yesterday. 

"We know that gatherings have been the source of several outbreaks across the state, including on Kaua‘i. For that reason, we have requested an additional amendment to Mayor’s Emergency Rule #13 on Gatherings. If approved, the amended rule would bring the maximum number of people allowed to gather outdoor from 100 down to 25. The indoor gathering limit would remain at 10.”

The limits apply to social events and not to allowed activities like school and church gatherings.

Kawakami also says all four of the island’s recent COVID cases appear tied to interisland travel.

He says the interisland travel quarantine that’s back in effect this week is necessary to prevent further outbreaks on Kauai.

--HPR's Sandee Oshiro

Kokua Council to Ige: remedy contact tracers shortage

The group that advocates for the elderly, Kokua Council, called on Gov. David Ige to take immediate action to protect kupuna and citizens from the rising numbers of COVID-19.

"Kokua Council asks why required action is not taken to protect them in face of the drastically increased incident of outbreaks on Oahu," the group said in a statement yesterday.

"We are particularly distressed to learn of the continued inaction of our state Department of Health, in particular the refusal of DOH head Bruce Anderson and epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park to remedy the acute shortage of contact tracers that renders the program ineffective," Kokua Council said.

The group said this is "an administrative management failure that is his (Ige's) responsibility to resolve."

Ige told HPR Tuesday that he stands by Anderson and Park but added he has asked the department to step up hiring of contact tracers. 

HPR reported Tuesday that the state has failed to keep up contact tracing with the surge of daily cases that regularly number in the three-digits. An insufficient number of contact tracers, shortage of space and lack of equipment have prevented the state from keeping up with contact tracing, a key to helping bring the infection under control.

--HPR's Sandee Oshiro

This is a developing story. Please check back for upates. Editor's note: We’d like to hear how you’re coping with the latest COVID-19 developments and the state's phased reopening. You can call our talkback line at 808-792-8217. Or e-mail us at