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A person who is currently incarcerated at a Salt Lake County jail facility has tested positive for the coronavirus, Sheriff Rosie Rivera said Thursday.
This is the first publicly known case of COVID-19 in Utah jails or prisons.
Rivera said the inmate is in a medical quarantine, along with more than 50 other inmates who were in the same jail unit.
“It was something that we prepared for early on,” the sheriff said, "and we’re confident right now they won’t be in a situation where they can expose anyone else, any other inmates, and they are segregated.”
Sheriff’s officials said Wednesday evening that an inmate at the Oxbow facility was tested the day prior after having “flu-like symptoms.” The inmate, along with 51 others, were transported in small groups from the Oxbow facility to the Metro jail so they could be medically quarantined in individual cells.
Officials said the inmates were given masks during the transfer, and were given new clothing and bedding.
The sheriff’s office said in a Thursday news release that a deputy and a civilian employee have also tested positive for COVID-19, but added that they have not been in the jail facility in the past five days. As of Thursday, six inmates have been tested for COVID-19, and five have come back negative.
This comes less than a week after a Utah defense attorney says her client tested positive for the coronavirus shortly after he was released from the Oxbow jail last Thursday.
The sheriff’s office said that the man who tested positive after release was not considered an exposure risk to other inmates because he didn’t develop symptoms until after he was released from the Oxbow jail.
Attorney Michelle Crane said her client, a 37-year-old man, was released the evening of March 26 from the jail, and woke up the next morning feeling ill and had a fever. He was hospitalized hours later, and a COVID-19 test came back positive on Sunday.
She said she believes it would be impossible for her client to have gotten the coronavirus from anywhere else but the Oxbow jail, because he has been incarcerated there since December.
There are currently 257 inmates at the Oxbow jail, down about 50 from earlier this week. In Salt Lake County’s two jail facilities, there are just over 1,650 people incarcerated, according to sheriff’s office data.
That’s the lowest the jail population has been in more than eight years, as officials try to reduce the number of people incarcerated. The population has decreased more than 23% of what it was three weeks ago, when there were 2,156 people in Salt Lake County jails.
The number of people brought to the jail also decreased significantly this March compared to last. There was a 26% decrease in bookings this March, with 1,973 bookings, compared to one year ago, when there were 2,669.
Reporter Taylor Stevens contributed to this report.