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Despite 3,000 COVID-19 cases, state prison records first outbreak in women’s facility

A guard tower at the Utah State Prison on Monday, Sept. 14, 2020. State and local officials make an announcement regarding the launch of planning efforts to redevelop the Utah State Prison in Draper. “The Point” is the newly established name for this 700 acres of state-owned property.
A guard tower at the Utah State Prison is pictured on Monday, Sept. 14, 2020.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

DRAPER — The Utah State Prison has confirmed the first coronavirus outbreak in its section housing women, nearly a year after the virus first arrived in Utah.

An initial round of rapid tests this week suggested at least nine women in the Timpanogos facility have COVID-19, said Department of Corrections spokeswoman Kaitlin Felsted. The group tested positive after several reported symptoms.

The prison is waiting on results from further rounds of testing to confirm the extent of the outbreak in the buildings where 341 women are serving prison sentences, Felsted said.

“We’ve done a lot of things to try and prevent an outbreak,” Felsted said, including screening employees and inmates for symptoms, and coordinating with county and state health officials.

It’s not clear to prison officials exactly how the virus spread inside the facility. The prison has been isolating those recently booked and administering tests.

Women in two of four Timpanogos buildings were in quarantine as a precaution, Felsted said.

The virus has exploded in other parts of the prison’s Draper and Gunnison sites. To date, more than half of those now incarcerated in the state’s prison system have contracted the virus.

It has also sickened those at halfway houses and in county jails, which hold certain prison inmates under agreements with the state.

In total, more than 3,000 have tested positive since an initial outbreak in September. As of Tuesday, there were 123 active cases, the prison said, while 2,922 are considered to have recovered.

Some of those who had the virus were later paroled or granted early release. There are about 5,500 currently incarcerated.

Fifteen men who tested positive, most over the age of 70, died in a period spanning from November to January.

Some of those men succumbed to the virus just weeks before vaccines were made available to inmates older than 70. Prison employees began administering the vaccines on Jan. 25; the general prison population is expected to be inoculated in March.