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Border & Immigration

39 Migrant Children Seeking Asylum Test Positive For COVID-19

A health screening site set up inside the Convention Center for arriving migrant teens, March 27, 2021.
Pool photo via CBS 8
A health screening site set up inside the Convention Center for arriving migrant teens, March 27, 2021.

Thirty-nine of the more than 500 unaccompanied migrant children being held at the San Diego Convention Center, girls between the ages of 13 and 17, have tested positive for COVID-19, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Monday.

At least 27 of the girls, who were transferred to California from a Border Patrol facility in Texas this weekend, tested positive for the virus. HHS Acting Regional Director Bonnie Preston said the cases stem from the Texas facility.

Another six girls tested positive after taking rapid tests while at the Convention Center. Four additional girls who had been exposed to those six girls tested positive on Monday. None of the cases are serious, according to the HHS, and all are symptomatic at this time.

The asylum seekers are separated into pods of about 50, which won't intermingle.

Preston said the girls who tested positive are being sheltered away from the rest of the migrant girls under COVID-19 protocol.

Around 250 more teens were scheduled to fly into San Diego Monday, for a total of around 750 children held at the San Diego Convention Center.

"All the girls are being taken care of," said County Supervisor Nora Vargas, who was briefed on the situation by health officials. "They all have warm meals, a warm place to sleep, receiving medical attention, but most importantly, they are surrounded by warm, trusted adults who represent the best of our community and have welcomed them with open arms."

The first group of children arrived Saturday evening after flying on three charter flights from Texas and were taken by multiple buses to the temporary shelter at the convention center. The planes landed at the San Diego International Airport between 9 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Saturday.

The girls were tested for COVID-19 before arriving in San Diego and will be tested every three days while staying at the convention center, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The creation of such emergency intake sites is designed to shift the minors — most of whom are from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — more quickly out of U.S. Border Patrol custody while helping to alleviate overcrowding at border holding facilities.

On March 22, city and county officials announced that they would make the convention center available for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to use as a temporary shelter for minors up to age 17.

The site will be used for about 90 days, with the average stay for each child averaging 30-35 days, city officials said. The children will be provided with food, medical care, a place to sleep and showers.

An outdoor recreation area will also be used at the facility. The children will not be permitted to leave the facility until they are reunified with family members in the United States or connected with other sponsors.

The Health and Human Services Refugee Resettlement Program will fund the temporary shelter, and additional partners include the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Center for Disease Control and the convention center.