DRAPER, Utah (ABC4) — The Utah Department of Corrections announced Monday the death of the eleventh Utah inmate from COVID-19.

As of Monday, the Department stated there are 964 inmates with COVID-19 in the Utah State Prison, the Central Utah Correctional Facility, and a county jail combined.

Utah State Prison and the Central Utah Correctional Facility are currently on modified lockdown, according to the Department. This means that out-of-cell time is limited in areas with outbreaks.

ABC4 took a look at COVID-19 safety measures and protocol that the Department is using to keep inmates and staff safe from the virus.

In a video that the Department released on its website in early October, Mark Haddon, the Department’s executive director, explains the safety protocols in place at the time.

Courtesy: Utah Department of Corrections

From the video and information on the Department’s website, here is what is known about COVID-19 safety protocol in Utah prisons.

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Nature of public health threats in Prisons

According to the department website, prisons and jails are very vulnerable to public health threats because they are areas where people are confined in groups. Inmates cannot be easily moved or released, and the population is often medically fragile.

“… COVID-19 in a correctional or a detention facility is such a risk. I’ve seen it across the country, especially with my peers in other states how quickly a virus can spread within a correctional environment,” Haddon said.

Initial Prevention and Cleanliness Measures

In June 2020, officials created a single entry point to the Draper prison and suspended personal visits with inmates’ family and friends. They also suspended volunteer services for programs.

In addition, they increased cleaning frequency and made cleaning schedules with training on effective cleaning.

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They also implemented social distancing measures among inmates and staff. Group treatment programs were limited to ten people with social distancing in place.

Officials put aside space for both male and female inmates at the prisons for both quarantine and isolation areas. Quarantine areas were for those who were symptomatic and may have come in contact with someone with COVID-19. Isolation areas were for those who tested positive for COVID-19.

Medically fragile patients were moved to a single facility close to medical care. They had limited movement outside of the unit in order to keep them safe.

Handling Intakes

The Department began taking intakes from county jails only one day per week. Intakes are quarantined for 14 days and moved to isolation immediately if they tested positive.

Personal Protective Equipment and Screening

Haddon said that when COVID-19 first started, every staff member was screened at the Draper and Gunnison prison sites. The Department also provided face coverings for all staff and inmates.

Haddon says in the October video that while staff wear full personal protective equipment, inmates do not. That is because staff end up working in different areas of the prison, so full gear is necessary to avoid spreading COVUID-19 to inmates, Haddon said.

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Separation of Sick Inmates

At the time of the October outbreak, Haddon said that inmates testing positive for COVID-19 were confined to two housing units. According to Haddon, the Department wanted to limit movement from the housing units with positive cases in order to avoid spreading the virus. Therefore, the inmates who tested negative were kept in the same housing with those testing positive.

However, the Department kept the two groups as separate as possible, Haddon said. The Department did not immediately return ABC4’s request for comment on what that separation involved.

Kaitlin Felsted, Communications Director of the Department, provided the following statement:

“We have worked closely with State health officials since the outset of the pandemic, and have worked hard to not only prevent the spread of COVID-19 within our facilities but to also contain it once present. 

We continue to collaborate closely with state and local health officials on movement and testing, which includes separating negative cases from positive cases. 

Many things have to be considered when moving an incarcerated individual, including COVID-19 protocols.

We continue to work closely with state and local health officials, but our staff have to also consider other criteria for movement of an incarcerated individual including documented safety concerns, gang affiliations, ADA accommodations and other medical conditions unrelated to COVID-19.

… we have been fortunate to have guidance from the CDC recommendations on their website, and to also have the support of state health officials.”

Quarantining versus Medical Isolation

The Department’s website states that quarantined inmates (those who have been exposed to those with COVID-19) who have not begun to experience symptoms over 14 days are tested before moving to general population.

Inmates in medical isolation (those who tested positive for COVID-19) must go 14 days without symptoms and receive two negative COVID-19 test results before returning to the general population.

Inmates are not charged for COVID-19 testing or any medical care or treatment.

“We care so deeply about our offender population, those that we have responsibility for, and we want to do the very best that we can to keep this from spreading to other areas of the prison,” Haddon said.

The information in this article was found on corrections.utah.gov. The page also shows numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases by facility.

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