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Laredo Investigates COVID-19 Outbreak At Rio Grande Detention Center

People making their way from Nuevo Laredo back into the U.S. across the international bridge.
Reynaldo Leaños Jr. | Texas Public Radio
The international bridge between Laredo and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.

The City of Laredo is investigating a COVID-19 outbreak at the Rio Grande Detention Center after more than 20 cases and at least one death have been connected to the center.

The center is operated by the private company GEO Group and is used to hold detainees for the U.S. Marshals Service and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Laredo Health Authority Dr. Victor Treviño said there have been more than 20 cases among employees and detainees and one death associated with the center. He issued a quarantine order for the center on Thursday.

“The health department has started a contact tracing investigation, and we’re going to assist with infection controls at the facility,” he said at a media briefing on Friday. “At the very minimum when a quarantine order is issued, we require for the positive residents be isolated and the positive staff to be sent home to quarantine so the virus does not spread.”

Treviño’s order says detainees cannot be discharged, transferred or admitted unless approved by Laredo's health department.

Treviño said two employees from the detention center have been hospitalized and that a detainee was discharged and later died at a hospital.

GEO Group said in a statement that a total of 23 employees had tested positive as of Friday.

“Seventeen of the employees who tested positive are currently at home on self-quarantine or receiving medical treatment at the local hospital, while five employees have fully recovered and returned to work after meeting the return-to-work guidelines for essential workers issued by the CDC,” a spokesman said in a statement.

The company said all detainees who have tested positive have been placed in medical isolation and are being monitored by medical staff. The company also said all of its facilities provide access to water, soap and health care and are equipped with airborne infection isolation rooms.

Personal protective equipment and masks are provided to staff and detainees at the center at least three times per week, according to the company’s statement.

“We take our responsibility to ensure the health and safety of all those in our care and our employees, who are on the front lines making daily sacrifices, with the utmost seriousness, and we will continue to work with our government partners and local health officials to implement best practices for the prevention, assessment and management of COVID-19, consistent with the latest guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” the statement said.

ICE has reported two cases among immigrants detained there. The agency said on Friday that there are currently 278 immigrants detained at the center.

The Marshals Service explained to TPR in a statement that it "is responsible for the care and custody of approximately 57,000 prisoners each day through agreements or contracts with … approximately 750 facilities. These facilities are responsible for the medical care that USMS prisoners receive, and they work closely with state health departments and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to ensure that infectious diseases are promptly identified and treated."

At least 16 of their inmates there have tested positive as of Friday, July 17.

The outbreak comes after calls from immigrant rights and criminal justice activists for people in detention to be released because of the risk of coronavirus spread.

Maria Mendez can be reached at Maria@tpr.org and on Twitter at @anxious_maria. She's a corps member of Report For America.

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