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Utah State Prison in lockdown after possible COVID-19 transmission

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Razor wire surrounds the Utah State Prison on Monday Sept. 14, 2020.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

DRAPER — The Utah State Prison in Draper and Central Utah Correctional Facility were placed under a 24-hour lockdown Wednesday after a suspected transmission of COVID-19 among the general inmate population.

Two inmates tested positive for the virus in a rapid test, and the prison is now waiting for their official PCR test results to come back from an outside medical provider, according to an update posted Thursday by the Utah Department of Corrections

The facilities went into lockdown at around 3 p.m. Wednesday.

In its Wednesday statement, the department said it is working under guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and is “coordinating with local health officials on quarantine and isolation procedures, conducting contact tracing, and ensuring that proper cleaning protocols are implemented.”

If the results are confirmed, they will be the first cases among the general population at the prison.

Previously, the state prison had reported 15 positive cases, 14 of which have since recovered, according to the Utah Department of Corrections. All of those were from new intakes or “among incarcerated individuals in county jails that UDC contracts with to house a portion of the state’s incarcerated population,” according to the Thursday update.

As of Monday, no inmate deaths due to COVID-19 have been reported in Utah.

“We understand the frustration in not being able to communicate with your loved ones today, but we anticipate easing back restrictions tomorrow — while still working in accordance with CDC recommendations — and access to phones will likely resume,” the Utah Department of Corrections said Thursday.

According the the Department of Corrections website, preventative measures at the prison have included providing two masks to all inmates and staff members, increasing cleaning and ensuring soap is available, social distancing for both inmates and staff, moving medically frail inmates into a single facility with medical care, and establishing separate quarantine spaces for those who are symptomatic or have had contact with someone who is.

Multiple outbreaks have occurred in Utah correctional facilities since the pandemic hit the Beehive State in March, and several jails have taken precautions to help slow the spread of the virus among inmates.

Amid an outbreak in late June and early July, the Washington County jail had previously imposed several preventive measures to try and contain the virus, including suspending programs and recreational activities, providing extra soap at no cost and boosting efforts to disinfect rooms.

Troubling reports emerged in early September from inmates in both Washington and Weber Counties that they were punished for reporting symptoms. However, their claims have been disputed by corrections officials.

The virus has stymied the correctional system at times, with the Utah State Prison refusing to accept offenders from the Salt Lake County Jail after it confirmed coronavirus cases in April.