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Nicole Boliaux, KSL, File

6 inmates in Salt Lake County Jail have coronavirus; 7 employees test positive

By Katie McKellar and Annie Knox, KSL | Posted - Apr. 7, 2020 at 6:24 p.m.

SALT LAKE CITY — A half-dozen inmates in the Salt Lake County Jail have the coronavirus, and five more are awaiting test results, county Sheriff Rosie Rivera said Tuesday.

Yet more jail employees than defendants have been confirmed to have the virus as of Tuesday.

A total of seven jail workers have tested positive for COVID-19: four jail officers and a civilian employee in the Oxbow location, plus two more civilian employees in the Metro jail, Rivera told the Salt Lake County Council during its regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday afternoon. Others may have sought out testing on their own, Rivera said, but she didn’t know how many.

The sheriff did not indicate whether the virus is suspected to have spread within the jail. But Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson said Tuesday the county has “unfortunately” seen COVID-19 expanding there.

“This is everywhere, and doesn’t respect county boundaries or municipal lines,” Wilson said. “That’s why I keep encouraging everyone to do their part no matter where they live.”

Rivera expressed confidence in the jail’s handling of cases.

“We currently are managing it in our facility,” she said. She also praised the jail’s medical team, which she said is working hard to adapt.

”I can’t tell you how proud I am of them right now,” she said.

The Tuesday announcement comes nearly a week after Rivera announced the first confirmed case in a man who she said was being treated in an isolated medical unit. It also follows an effort to limit the spread of the virus amid concerns it would devastate the jail’s population.

Judges in recent weeks have approved early mass releases, allowing more than 150 defendants deemed low-risk to walk out of the jail; still others have successfully argued they should be allowed to go home as their trials are delayed until summer.

Rivera said corrections staff are following an emergency plan to manage the outbreak, but has declined to publicly release it, citing concerns about security. Hers is the state’s only jail to announce cases of the virus. None have been confirmed in the Utah State Prison, a spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Salt Lake County Chief Deputy Matt Dumont told the council he’s “incredibly proud of the great work being done inside the jail.”

“It’s a confusing time, of course,” Dumont said, particularly for inmates’ families. The jail has limited visits to only no-contact meetings with attorneys, although inmates are now allowed three free phone calls a week.

“We want to do everything we can to maintain the connections within the community,” he said. Dumont emphasized that the jail has set up medical quarantine units aimed at preventing any further spread of the virus.

Salt Lake County Councilwoman Shireen Ghorbani asked if the jail has enough masks, gloves, soap and other hygiene items.

For the time being, the jail does have enough, Dumont said, but he worries that may change.

“Now our supply chain is getting about half of what our orders are,” Dumont said. He noted jails and businesses across the country are likely running into the same problem amid a surge in demand.

“We’re trying to forecast and determine what our needs are. When it comes to the N95 masks, everyone is hurting in terms of supply,” he said.

Instead, Dumont said the jail has started using surgical masks, and expects to receive 3D-printed masks. The jail has also purchased a neoprene version for employees who regularly interact with inmates.

Contributing: Mary Richards, KSL NewsRadio

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