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Health, Science & Environment

Despite high vaccination rates, Utah State Prison experiences another COVID outbreak

A photo inside a prison.
As of Nov. 12, there were 66 active cases of COVID-19 at the Utah State Prison in Draper and another seven were reported at the Gunnison facility.

Dodi Killough’s fiance — Matt — is currently housed in the Oquirrh 5 facility at the state prison’s Draper location. It’s where medically vulnerable individuals are housed. But as the prison sees an outbreak in COVID cases — 66 active ones as of Nov. 12 — Killough is concerned for her fiance. A couple weeks ago Matt had back surgery and shortly after he contracted COVID-19.

He received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine months ago when it first became available.

Still, Killough said she’s concerned for his safety because he has an underlying heart condition and with his recent surgery, it makes him even more vulnerable for complications.

“He is scared to death,” she said. “You know, he has been all alone. He says that they're moving people in and out and around with COVID, that they're not taking precautions. It's going to be like it was in 2020 where you never knew when you'd wind up in quarantine. They're telling him he's safe right now because he just got over it. But who knows?”

Last November, families got together to protest after an outbreak had occurred, and it was revealed healthy prisoners were being placed with people who’d been infected.

Killough said last year, when her fiance was about to get another medical procedure done, his test results were mixed up. He’d originally been told he was negative before officials reversed course and moved him to another block to quarantine. He wrote a letter saying that an officer had confirmed he’d been negative.

A photo of a letter.
Courtesy of Dodi Killough
Matt writes a letter detailing the testing incident mixup.

Vaccination rates among prisoners range from 60-90% depending on the facility, according to the Utah Department of Corrections. Oquirrh 5 is currently at 92%.

Killough said she wants more transparency and communication about the way the prison is handling this situation. She’s scared her fiance might die.

“I would like for the prison system to see them as people. If an animal got treated that way there would be enough organizations out there to help that animal, but because they're prisoners they're not being helped,” she said.

Kaitlin Felsted, a spokesperson for the Utah State Prison, said they don’t know where the outbreak started and it’s hard to trace.

“Incarcerated individuals interact with the community and could potentially get COVID in several different ways — staff members coming in and out of the facility,” Felsted said. “An incarcerated individual going to a care facility or having a procedure done outside our property and potentially bringing back something.”

Felsted said neither prisoners nor staff members at the prison are required to be vaccinated, but they strongly encourage it.

She said they’re currently following CDC guidelines and working with local health officials to contain the spread.

“The CDC has put out a whole kind document on how to adapt to the pandemic when you work within a correctional facility,” she said. “We try to follow that very closely. If we have confirmed [cases] or we have someone who is maybe symptomatic … those testing procedures would be — prompt testing. How we would isolate and move offenders through our facilities to try and prevent the spread.”

Felsted said she encourages family members to reach out to their hotline to get more information on their loved one’s situation.

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