Another 31 people who are incarcerated at the Weber County jail have tested positive for the coronavirus, jail officials announced Friday.

© Leah Hogsten
(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Weber County Sheriff Complex entrance Thursday, September 15 2011.

That brings the total number of infected inmates to 114, likely the largest outbreaks so far in a jail facility in Utah.

“Our top priority is the health and safety of both our inmates and employees,” Lt. Josh Marigoni said in a news release Friday. “Inmates that have tested positive are being isolated into single cells as much as possible and where not possible are being quarantined together with other positives.”

The jail unit was tested for COVID-19 after a sick federal inmate from Nevada was transferred to the Weber County jail. The federal inmate had told jailers he had a chronic cough. A few days later — after he had been mixed with the general population — his cough got worse and he sought medical help.

While the federal inmate is the most likely cause for the Weber County jail outbreak, officers say it is possible that it also entered the jail in additional ways.

Inmates and their family members are frustrated by the outbreak, and say they’re scared for those who are behind bars.

“It’s simply not possible to practice social distancing in here,” Bronson Dean, an inmate, wrote in an email, “where we eat, sleep and live in tight quarters with each other at all times. Many of us feel that the system is playing Russian roulette with our lives to keep a bed filled that they get paid for.”

Marigoni said that nearly 90% of those who have tested positive for the virus haven’t had any symptoms, which is what made it difficult initially to identify that it had been spreading throughout the facility.

He said they’re working to try to stop the contagion. They heightened their sanitation efforts several months ago, and then increased even more after that first inmate tested positive. They’ve also tried to limit their jail population, which usually hovers around 800 people at the main facility. On Friday, there were 590 people incarcerated there. At the Kiesel facility — another, smaller jail the county runs — there are 54 inmates. The capacity for that facility is 260.

Marigoni said masks are mandatory for staff, and are “highly encouraged” to be worn by inmates, but added that no force is being used to make them wear masks.

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