SALT LAKE CITY — Vulnerable Utahns — as many as 130 healthy homeless and about 100 others who may have been exposed to COVID-19 but have nowhere to self-quarantine — are being housed in Salt Lake County-run facilities.

But county officials refuse to say where those facilities are.

Salt Lake County’s quarantine and isolation centers — meant to provide a safe place for people exposed or possibly exposed to COVID-19 to self-quarantine but aren’t able to at home — and an entire hotel that county officials have leased to house up to 130 homeless individuals who have tested negative but are “high risk” to COVID-19, continue to be shrouded in secrecy.

In the weeks since the facilities were launched, county officials have declined to provide any information about their locations other than saying the isolation centers have been set up in county-owned facilities that have been shuttered amid the coronavirus pandemic, such as county recreation centers, senior centers or libraries. They have refused to identify their general locations, including the cities or neighborhoods.

County officials have taken the same approach with the hotel, which is meant to protect high-risk homeless from the coronavirus. It’s been prioritized for homeless clients over the age of 60 and those who have underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk of death if they contract COVID-19.

County officials say the facilities must remain hidden from the general public to protect individuals’ privacy, but media law experts and advocates say county officials have gone too far by shielding the location of taxpayer-owned or taxpayer-funded buildings.

“Identifying the location of taxpayer-funded quarantine and isolation centers is not the same as identifying patients,” said Jeff Hunt, a Salt Lake City attorney and media law expert. “The county can protect the privacy of patients while still providing information of interest to the public about the public health emergency.”

While county officials have said they intend to seek federal reimbursement to cover the cost of the facilities, those federal funds would still come from the taxpayers’ dime.

The Salt Lake County Mayor’s Office on Tuesday denied a public records request submitted by the Deseret News seeking documents related to the locations of the county isolation centers. In response to a request for a copy of the contract that county officials executed with the owner of the hotel now being used to house the homeless, the mayor’s office released a redacted copy of the contract — shielding the hotel’s name and location.

As part of the denied request, Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson’s executive officer administrator, Michelle Hicks, declined to release the information, citing exemptions to Utah’s Government Records Access and Management Act “to the extent that they concern the county’s implementation of its emergency plans in response to the crisis, and where their release would ‘jeopardize (a) the safety of the general public; or (b) the security of: governmental property, governmental programs; or the property of a private person who provides the Division of Emergency Management information.”

As Salt Lake County health officials have grappled with the pandemic’s hit to Utah’s most densely populated county, they’ve also grappled with how to strike the right balance of the public’s right to know and protecting sensitive health information, said Salt Lake County Health Department spokesman Nicholas Rupp.

“We evaluate that balance every day,” Rupp said Wednesday.

Because the isolation and quarantine facilities have been set up “specific to medical situations” for individuals who have been exposed or potentially exposed to COVID-19, “anyone who is aware of the exact location of the facility and sees an individual entering it can deduce some health information about that person.”

Rupp said the isolation and quarantine facilities “don’t present any threat to the public” or their surrounding neighborhoods because he said they are “secure” facilities. He said there were 109 people in those facilities as of Wednesday.

Rupp said county officials “haven’t come up with a way that we could share those exact locations and still protect those individuals’ right to privacy because anyone who knows the address, if they chose to park outside and there happens to be individuals who are walking into the facility to be housed there, they can be identified.”

Yet locations of nursing homes housing only COVID-19 patients and locations where people are being tested for the new coronavirus are all known and visible to the public. Some of those testing locations are outdoors. And the public homeless resource center in South Salt Lake has now been turned into a quarantine center for the homeless after nearly half of the 205 men staying at the shelter tested positive for the virus. People in those locations could be identified if anyone wanted to.

As for the hotel, Salt Lake County mayor’s spokeswoman Chloe Morroni also cited privacy concerns for not sharing the information with the public.

“The individuals staying at the hotel have been identified by medical vulnerability,” Morroni said. “Although the hotel is not being used as a medical facility, to us, it is completely analogous in terms of privacy given the fact that these individuals are the highest risk among those experiencing homelessness.”

Morroni said the hotel owner is also “putting themselves out there in terms of stepping up to help out temporarily, and we don’t want to put them at the risk of backlash.”

Eric Peterson, president of Utah Headliners Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, said he understands the need for privacy for those who have or may have contracted COVID-19, but he questions the need to conceal entire buildings’ locations.

“That makes it hard for journalists to do their job by checking up on these facilities, seeing if they’re safe and accomplishing their purpose,” Peterson said. “Couldn’t the county just identify the building and then cordon areas off around the facilities to protect the identities of residents there or use shuttles, maybe, to take residents in and out if necessary? Certainly there has to be a middle ground.”

As for the hotel, Peterson said there “doesn’t seem like there’s any justification” to conceal its location.

The Deseret News plans to appeal the denied records request, arguing the public has the right to know how taxpayer-owned and taxpayer-funded facilities are being used, and that the county doesn’t need to go as far as shielding the names and locations of entire buildings when hospitals, clinics and homeless shelters are already public knowledge. Additionally, the public has the right to know where vulnerable populations are being housed and if those facilities are being operated appropriately.

“Transparency of government actions is foundational, but particularly important during times of crisis,” said Doug Wilks, editor of the Deseret News. “We seek only to help ensure that the public money being used to help vulnerable populations such as the homeless is being spent for its intended purpose.”