OGDEN — The Weber County Jail has begun widespread COVID-19 testing of inmates and employees believed to have been exposed to the coronavirus.
The stepped-up testing comes after the number of confirmed infections rose to six as of Monday, the Weber County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release Monday night.
Previously, inmates were tested only if they exhibited symptoms of the virus.
As of Monday, five inmates and one corrections employee have tested positive. The first infection was announced eight days earlier.
The pandemic is a special concern in jails and prisons because of their inherent lack of social distancing.
Lt. Joshua Marigoni, sheriff’s office corrections spokesperson, said 12 jail employees were tested over the weekend, all results negative.
McKay-Dee Hospital has been providing supplies “for continued mass testing of employees and inmates,” Marigoni said in the news release.
Inmates are under the care of the jail’s contract medical provider, Vital Core Health Services, Marigoni said.
The jail has quarantined sections believed to have been exposed to COVID-19 and the medical staff is performing daily temperature and blood oxygen saturation checks of inmates in those units, he said.
“If an inmate is identified as being symptomatic they are moved to a single-cell quarantine unit and are tested for COVID,” he said.
He said unnecessary inmate movement is being limited, and an inmate being moved is first given a temperature check, Marigoni said.
A few inmates continued Monday to complain about allegedly insufficient testing and a claimed lack of sanitation supplies and masks for inmates.
Inmate Jeffrey Watts said in an email to the Standard-Examiner from the jail system said adequate cleaning supplies and soap were made available only recently. He said he also recently received a mask “for the first time in 37 days.”
Three other inmates made similar complaints last week after the first case was announced publicly.
In his Monday night news release, Marigoni said, “We are increasing the amount of soap and cleaning supplies that we provide the inmates.”
He said disposable food trays now are being used in quarantine units instead of washable trays.
Some employees have brought in sewing machines and are making them for inmates, Marigoni said. Since the pandemic started, 1,400 masks have been made, he said.
Every inmate is given a mask upon arrival, he said.
The jail also is accepting donations of cloth masks. Marigoni said donors can call the jail’s front office at 801-778-6600 to make arrangements to drop off masks.
Watts and another inmate, Murat Suljovic, complained about the level of testing they have seen in the Weber jail.
“Despite claims by the jail, zero tests have been administered in the capacity section where I am housed,” Watts said. “This is despite a near double digit number of inmates complaining of symptoms.”
But Marigoni said Tuesday it depends day to day on which jail section gets greater testing.
“Mass testing is currently focused on inmates at a high risk for exposure,” Marigoni said. “Every day we will make different decisions and figure out which ways we need to go.”
Marigoni expressed frustration about unfounded inmate complaints.
“We’re following the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) guidelines to the T,” he said. “And we give all the information to the inmates as soon as we get it.”
Marigoni said the jail also is working with the contract medical personnel to identify medically vulnerable inmates that have been exposed to COVID and move them to single-cell quarantine units.
The Utah Department of Health does not track COVID-19 testing and infections in jails and state prisons, spokesperson Charla Haley said. She referred inquiries to local health departments.
Weber-Morgan Health Department spokesperson Lori Buttars said last week the agency was advising the jail on how to isolate cases and conduct testing.
She said Tuesday the department does not track testing and results in the jail.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah said last week it was evaluating conditions in county jails during the pandemic.
The ACLU and two other groups asked the Utah Supreme Court in April to order accelerated releases of inmates in jails and prisons, but the court rejected the petition on procedural grounds.