Governor Says Hawaii Prisons Lack Capacity to Fully Implement COVID Protocols

In a broad interview with Catherine Cruz of The Conversation, Hawaiian Governor David Ige talks about COVID-19 in prisons and prisons, reviews of the tourism industry amid the wave of Delta variants, and the vaccination of our keiki .

Catherine Cruz: Hawaii Supreme Court justices are questioning whether they should force the prison service to start releasing more inmates due to overcrowding and the upsurge in Delta cases. The vaccination rate of most civil servants is high. In July, it was close to 90%, but workers in the Ministry of Public Safety had the lowest rate of all other ministries.

Hawai’i Gov. David Ige: We made public safety and correctional facilities a priority very, very early in this pandemic. We know that those who live in these assembly facilities are at risk, especially because they are confined and we have too many people in these facilities. It is improving. I have spoken with Warden Max Otani and he works very hard to encourage all inmates, as well as staff, to get vaccinated. As you know, we made vaccinations mandatory, but employees can choose to be tested weekly. We believe the percentage of people vaccinated will continue to increase as we navigate this pandemic.

Cruz: The issue of the release of some detainees is again before the Supreme Court, and there is just a concern about the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths.

Ige: Yes, sure, that has been a concern for us too, as you again know, the prisoners who are offered to get vaccinated early as a priority – many have chosen not to. You know, we continue to work with the monitoring commission to see what improvements we can make. It’s a challenge. We have many who are assigned to correctional facilities, and we do not have the space or the capacity to fully implement COVID protocols. You know, we would like to isolate anyone new to the system for 10 days – but often times we just don’t have the space to be able to do that.

Cruz: And I’m sure there are some people out there who are right in the spirit that you know – just mandate it, demand them and don’t allow the testing option. What do you say to that?

Ige: Well, I mean, I think we’re making progress and we’ve got a significant percentage of people vaccinated. So I think we continue to consider this and work with the Attorney General to take the appropriate action and take the appropriate action. The cases – we have been successful in keeping COVID out of many of our facilities for a very good, long period of time. But as cases count in the community and community spread increases, you know, it’s next to impossible to keep COVID out of jail.

Cruz: I don’t know what the vacancy rate for adult correctional officers is. I know there’s a concern that you don’t want the officers to quit if we need these workers on the job. But do you see at some point saying that everyone has to get vaccinated, period?

Igé: Yes, we consider this a requirement. And we have worked to fill vacancies in correctional facilities. We have had a lot of increase in the number of training sessions and opportunities that we have. And so we are committed to filling those vacancies – we pay well, we promote the opportunity to be in the correctional profession. And, you know, we’ve been more successful in signing people up for training courses and recruiting more correctional officers. And so we will continue to do so.

Cruz: We heard a lot of criticism – you know, you made the decision to ask visitors and tell them that now is not the time to come to Hawai’i because the delta surge was stressing our system. health. Do you think you are being unfairly criticized on this matter? There was a slowdown soon after. Although, you know, I think August, September is normally the time when we see a downturn.

Ige: I was definitely aware that there would be a natural slowdown. Certainly I was worried and heard the concern from my community that there were too many visitors here on the islands. And Catherine, as you might remember, you know, the peak started before the 4th of July weekend, but it really started to pick up speed and you know, we hit the 100 average, and then of the 200 and 300 cases. And then just before Labor Day, when I made an announcement asking visitors not to come, we were averaging 900 new cases. We have had over 470 COVID-positive patients in our hospitals, and intensive care units statewide were over capacity in some facilities, and clearly close to capacity in virtually every facility across the country. State. So I was under the impression that even if our visitors represented only a small niche of cases, anything would be able to tip the numbers to the point that the health care system would collapse.

Cruz: We have heard criticism from hoteliers that they wish you had consulted them before making this statement. I happened to take the elevator the other day and shared it with a taxi driver. And I asked how he was and he said, “Oh, business is terrible.” He said he worked nine hours and only earned $ 30. And he said, “I’m angry with Governor David Ige.”

Ige: I know it has had an impact on our economy and our community. But I really felt we had to make sure we didn’t crush our health care system. You know, even though I authorized Crisis Care Standards to protect our healthcare workers and the system, we didn’t have to implement that. We didn’t have to make life and death decisions about who gets care and who doesn’t. And I believe if we hadn’t taken that step, we would have if the healthcare system had really crossed that threshold – it would have a serious impact on everyone, not just COVID patients, you know, everyone. who need health care during this time.

Cruz: So no regrets?

Igé: I understand that it’s my job to make some of these decisions. And I felt it was necessary at the time.

Cruz: Is there something else you want to talk about, something you want to highlight?

Ige: I just want to encourage if people are not vaccinated, to get vaccinated. This is the most important thing we can do so that we can end the restrictions and really get back to the new normal. As you know, Pfizer has applied for emergency use authorization for immunizations for children aged 5 to 11. I really think it’s an important part of what we’re trying to do to fight COVID-19. We expect the federal government, FDA, and CDC to review this request within the next two to four weeks, and we expect it to be approved. And that will really be a game-changer. You know, that will help us continue to keep our schools open. I know a lot of parents have asked about getting their kids immunized, you know that would really be a big part of our community. And you know, we always understand that our children are our most precious possessions that we want to protect, that we would now have the option to vaccinate them, and that will make a huge difference to get back to normal.

Cruz: There have been mixed messages throughout this pandemic, and some of them coming from your lieutenant governor. And some people just wonder if he’s on your team? Because sometimes he has made statements which may seem to detract from what you have just announced?

Ige: Well, I mean, you know, we tried to make him aware of the things that we are working on. And, you know, he’s got his own mind. And he makes the statements he makes. You know, we continue to strive to take the best measures on behalf of the whole community. And I appreciate, you know, that we continue to be the most effective state, I believe, in dealing with this pandemic. I noticed that this Delta surge was really a setback. But the past three weeks have been significant trends in the right direction. We are seeing fewer infections and we are coming to a better place for our hospitals and our healthcare system.

Cruz: Yes, thank God for that. Although September, oh my God, the death toll for September is so disheartening.

Igé: Yeah. And, you know, the number of deaths is a lagging indicator. So we know that we will see higher deaths over the next few weeks because of this increase that we have seen,

Cruz: So the worst is not over yet?

Ige: The worst is not over yet.

This interview aired on The Conversation on September 30, 2021.

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