70 total unaccompanied migrant teens at the Convention Center test positive for COVID-19

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) – On their second day operating the San Diego Convention Center as a shelter for unaccompanied migrant girls, federal and local authorities began today seeking sponsors for the 723 who have arrived so far, including 70 who have tested positive for COVID-19.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is overseeing the process of moving the teens and settling them with relatives and other sponsors in the United States. The shelter, which can hold up to 1,450 minors, is the only one in the country open exclusively to girls.

“It just makes a lot of sense to separate girls and boys; they have a little bit different needs and different things that make them feel nurtured,” said Bonnie Preston, acting regional director for U.S. Health and Human Services.

On Tuesday, the San Diego County Office of Education invited retired educators and others to apply to work with the unaccompanied girls. The county agency plans said it will offer the teens in-person education during the 14 to 30 days they are held at the convention center, but did not provide details.

“We want to instill hope, instill joy and show care for our students while they are with us, no matter if that’s for a few days or a few months,” county Superintendent of Education Paul Gothold said in a statement.

State law mandates that all children in California receive education regardless of their immigration status or their detention in government facilities. A county education representative said the agency has contracted with South Bay Community Services to provide programming for the migrant girls. A representative for that organization had no immediate comment Tuesday

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Temecula, whose district includes parts of northeast San Diego County and parts of Riverside County, released a statement criticizing the plan to provide instruction for the migrant children, noting that many San Diego County schools have remained shuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Parents have every right to be angry,” Issa said.

San Diego Unified School District, which has provided online and hybrid instruction to thousands of students in kindergarten through 12th grade during the COVID-19 pandemic, plans to offer in-person instruction four days a week starting April 12. Many other local school districts also have begun offering a hybrid or will soon.

San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond also spoke out against the county plan to provide instruction to the migrant girls, emphasizing the fact that it would occur in person.

Among the migrant teens who arrived in San Diego on Monday, 70 tested positive for COVID-19, Preston said, noting that teens being held at the center will be tested for COVID-19 every three days. Those who test positive are held on a separate floor from the others. Those who were exposed to the virus but tested negative also are also held in a separate group.

Groups of minors are expected to arrive every other day to allow the teens at least 24 hours to settle in before another group arrives. The next group is expected on Wednesday, Preston said.

At a rate of less than 10%, the migrants arriving at the convention center are not testing positive more frequently than San Diego residents overall. Of the county’s estimated 1.4 million residents, about 270,000 or 19% had tested positive as of Tuesday.

Preston said her federal officials have focused so far on the minors who have been in custody the longest.

Once brought to the center, the girls are separated into groups of 50 for services and care.

“They are together for everything,” Preston said, adding that their beds are separated just with draping.

San Diego immigration attorney, Esther Valdes said she is concerned after hearing reports that FBI background checks were being waived for caregivers at migrant shelters.

“The Office of Refugee Resettlement takes over custody of children, they are currently seeking volunteers which we just learned from the Associated Press that an FBI background check will no longer be mandatory for these volunteers, including those at the San Diego Convention Center,” Valdes said.

We reached out to HHS about these allegations and were told that this was, “highly unlikely,” but that they would follow up with clearer details. When asked if FBI background checks were being waived for sponsors that the girls are being released to, HHS said this was false.

“Absolutely NOT! We are the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,” Preston said. “We are not going to waive any background checks on proposed sponsors for these children.”

It’s unclear if the COVID-19 outbreak among migrant teens would impact the timeline of their stay in San Diego.

Categories: Coronavirus, Local San Diego News, National & International News