SALT LAKE CITY — As the novel coronavirus continues to spread throughout Utah, Salt Lake County officials are eyeing shuttered recreation centers and other now-closed county buildings to be turned into “quarantine isolation centers” for patients unable to quarantine at home.
County officials say they don’t necessarily need the isolation centers yet — but are gearing up in case they do.
“We are ready to operate a couple of our rec centers to turn into quarantine isolation centers for the population that cannot stay in their own homes when we come to that point,” Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson told the Salt Lake County Council on Tuesday.
“I hope we never have to use those centers in that way, but they are there.”
Catherine Kanter, the county’s deputy mayor of regional operations who is serving as the logistics section chief for the county’s COVID-19 response team, told KSL on Wednesday the county is currently considering seven facilities, though that could change.
“Currently, we are focused on utilizing facilities such as closed recreation centers, senior centers and libraries,” she said, noting that their goal as of Wednesday was to identify enough facilities to house 250 to 500 people total.
“We may adjust that goal as the situation develops,” she said.
Kanter declined to specify which facilities are being considered, saying county officials “are not in a position to share the locations of the possible sites” at this time.
The shuttered Marv Jenson Recreation Center in South Jordan is already being used in a similar way to house people — but not those who are sick. After the Rescue Mission’s downtown shelter was damage by last week’s earthquake, about 50 homeless men suddenly needed a new place to stay. County officials volunteered the old gym, previously shut down after being deemed too costly to renovate.
Those 50 Rescue Mission clients are expected to be able to move back into the downtown facility soon, meaning the Marv Jenson gym could possibly be a location county officials could consider for a isolation center. Wilson pointed to the gym as an example when she discussed the isolation centers with the council.
The aim of the isolation centers, Kanter said, is to provide options to people who have tested positive for the virus, or have taken a test and are waiting for results, but don’t want to quarantine or isolate at home or don’t have the option to do so.
“This could be driven by concerns over infecting a high-risk family member, on account of homelessness, or for other reasons,” Kanter said.
During an emergency, state law allows counties to take such actions and house people in buildings otherwise not used for shelter.
So far, county officials haven’t pulled the trigger on activating the isolation centers. Kanter said there is “not a significant need for this service currently,” but county leaders want to be ready to launch them as soon as they’re needed.
“At this time, the need is not critical, but we are proactively planning so that we will be ready to pivot quickly as the situation evolves,” she said. “Salt Lake County officials are focused on anticipating and preparing for possible future needs. Preparedness is always important.”