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Utah Corrections Department, Nursing Facility See First Confirmed COVID-19 Cases

woman in park rollerskating with mask
Elaine Clark / KUER
Soleil Kinslow of Salt Lake City roller skates with a mask at Liberty Park on April 4, 2020. The number of COVID-19 cases in Utah rose to 1,428, according to state health statistics released Saturday.

A Salt Lake City nursing home has Utah’s first confirmed incident of community transmission of COVID-19 at a care facility, state and local health officials announced Saturday, the day after officials confirmed the first case in the Department of Corrections.

Six patients at a nursing home have tested positive for COVID-19, and one nursing facility patient, a woman over age 85, has died. Eight people in Utah have died due to COVID-19, according to the Utah Department of Health. There are now 1428 confirmed cases of the disease in the state.  

 

The 34-bed nursing facility has been investigated by public health officials, state health officials and the Salt Lake County Health Department said in a joint statement. The first resident to test positive for the virus has been hospitalized since March 27. 

 

Health officials have inspected the facility and provided training and signage for staff. All residents are now isolated in their rooms and will be tested for COVID-19. Those who test negative for the virus will be transferred to a new facility. 

 

Then, the building will be converted into a recovery facility for patients who have been hospitalized for COVID-19. It will be the first such facility in the state, according to a state Department of Health spokesperson. 

 

On Friday night, the Utah Department of Corrections said in a statement that a former inmate, who is male and between the ages of 45 to 64 had tested positive. He was released late last year and has been living in one of the state’s five community correctional centers — limited security transitional housing for offenders on probation or recently paroled from prison. 

 

The department did not say how he got the virus, but he is in stable condition and being isolated. 

 

Offenders in correctional centers typically have regular access to the community, according to the department, but the facility will be on quarantine for at least 14 days, following recommendations from state and local health departments. 

 

The department said it is also working with public health officials to trace those he may have come into contact with.

 

“This is an ever-evolving situation,” said Dan Blanchard, adult probation and parole director for Utah Department of Corrections. “We will continue to evaluate offenders on a case-by-case basis, consult with state and local health departments, and may consider recommending to the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole for the early release of some offenders to an approved address in the future.”

 

Earlier this week, Mike Haddon, the corrections department’s executive director, said no inmates or staff in state prisons have tested positive for the virus, and only one inmate has been tested so far. Some staff are self-quarantining, because they are displaying symptoms or came into contact with others who’ve tested positive. 

 

“This just shows the urgency of the situation and the need to take quick, decisive action,” said John Mejia, legal director for the ACLU of Utah. 

 

The organization filed a petition with the Utah Supreme Court earlier this week demanding that state correctional facilities release more inmates to protect them from a potential COVID-19 outbreak, which could spread quickly among inmates in close quarters. Mejia said the petition also applies to community correctional centers.

 

Utah state prisons, as well as a number of county jails, have already released or plan on releasing inmates nearing the end of their sentences. But the civil liberties group said more should be let go, asking for the release of all pretrial detainees, inmates with 180 days or fewer to serve on a sentence and all individuals who are at high risk of serious complications from contracting COVID-19.

 

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