A donation of 1,200 homemade cloth masks is helping the Davis County Jail in its efforts to protect against coronavirus infections.
At the Weber County Jail in Ogden, community service inmates have been sewing masks for those incarcerated, while donors have provided more cloth masks, plus plastic 3D-printed masks for staff.
Jails — potential petri dishes of COVID-19 because of limited social distancing — have been releasing many inmates deemed a low public safety threat.
The Weber and Davis County jails also have boosted health screenings and have identified cellblocks where any infected inmates could be quarantined.
But without protective gear for inmates and civilian jail staff, the Davis sheriff’s office in Farmington asked local foundations about finding sources for cloth masks — which are not medical grade but may provide some protection against COVID-19.
Sheriff Kelly Sparks said Wednesday donors delivered 1,200 cloth masks made by members of Bountiful and Layton stakes of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“We have an amazing community here in Davis County and Utah in general, and people are generous with their time and their means and are anxious to help out,” Sparks said.
The jail received enough cloth masks so inmates and and nondeputized staff members each can have two, enough so all will have one clean one while the other’s being washed.
“This is a precautionary measure,” Sparks said. “We are trying to do everything we can tp prevent the virus from getting into the population.”
Jail nurses will have the highly protective N95 masks available if any COVID-19 cases occur in the jail, and deputies will have surgical masks, the sheriff said.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the Davis jail had no COVID-19 cases, Sparks said. One civilian staff member who tested positive about two weeks ago was sent home to quarantine.
The sheriff’s office posted a photo on social media Tuesday of several inmates wearing cloth masks and standing shoulder to shoulder.
“We are doing as much as we can to maintain social distancing in the jail, but we’re living in close proximity,” Sparks said. “Because we can’t optimize that function, having masks adds a layer of protection and we’re doing things like screening everybody.”
Sparks said the jail population is down to about 320, more than 100 lower than two weeks ago and at less than half the jail’s capacity.
The jail, the county attorney’s office, the public defender coordinator and the judiciary all must sign off on anyone being released early, Sparks said.
Sparks said he’s aware of an incident in March in which a man released from a halfway house due to COVID-19 concerns allegedly attacked a woman in American Fork.
“In life, theories are not guarantees,” Sparks said. “We are doing everything we can not to release someone who poses any kind of threat to the public.”
The Utah Supreme Court recently received a petition from civil liberties and public defender groups asking for an order to require more inmates be released from prisons and jails because of the COVID-19 risk behind bars.
Lt. Joshua Marigoni of the Weber County Sheriff’s Office said Thursday that community service inmates had sewn about 600 cloth masks using materials the agency purchased.
And Washington Heights Church was donating more cloth masks later Thursday, he said.
The jail meanwhile hopes to receive enough 3D-printed masks for the whole jail staff, he said.
The Ogden jail has no COVID-19 infections — “Let me find some wood to knock on real fast,” Marigoni said.
“We have plans for mitigation and quarantine ready to go,” he said. “If it ever gets into a confined area, it can spread like wildfire.”