Flu cases at San Diego migrant shelter reach 81, County confirms 22 new cases
SAN DIEGO (KUSI) – County health officials announced Thursday that the influenza outbreak at a local migrant shelter continues to worsen with 22 new cases of flu or flu-like symptoms.
The total number of confirmed flu and “influenza-like illness” since May 19 among asylum-seeking migrants at a shelter in Bankers Hill operated by Jewish Family Service of San Diego now stands at 81. Officials with the county’s Health and Human Services Agency confirmed 12 new cases on both Tuesday and Wednesday.
In addition, the county has quarantined 63 asylum seekers at various local hotels to try to contain the outbreak. Two asylum seekers at the shelter have been transported to the hospital due to their flu symptoms, according to the county. Health officials have screened roughly 450 asylum-seeking migrants at the shelter for symptoms since May 19.
The county defines an outbreak as one person contracted an illness and a second person contracting it and showing symptoms within 72 hours. The county first declared the outbreak May 23.
The asylum seekers began arriving in droves earlier this month from Texas, where federal immigration authorities are overwhelmed by an ongoing crush of immigrants and asylum seekers, many of them women and children, at the U.S.-Mexico border in the Rio Grande Valley. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, roughly 8,000 people are currently being held at the agency’s detention facility in McAllen, Texas, two times the facility’s maximum capacity.
Officials with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and CBP announced May 17 that they would begin flying detained asylum seekers to San Diego County in groups of roughly 130 for processing to reduce the strain on immigration agents in Texas. DHS officials also suggested they could begin sending groups of asylum seekers to Detroit, Miami and Buffalo, New York, as well.
The asylum seekers are being flown to San Diego International Airport, where they are then transported to local CBP processing stations like Brown Field. Once processed, the detainees are generally released into the county while they await a hearing for their asylum claim. Many of them end up at the Bankers Hill shelter, which provides humanitarian aid and services.
Cases of flu and chicken pox have afflicted immigrant detention facilities for months, with some detained infants and children showing fevers of up to 105 degrees. CBP agents temporarily closed processing functions at the McAllen facility last week amid a flu outbreak, during which it quarantined more than 30 detainees, according to the Washington Post.
The flu has also caused multiple deaths among detainees at the border in the last six months. Immigration officials confirmed the flu-related death of a 16-year-old Guatemalan boy at the McAllen facility last week, the fifth Guatemalan child to die in federal custody since December and at least the second to die from flu complications.
The county said it plans to continue monitoring the situation and providing updates on new flu cases at the shelter. County health officials are also treating outwardly healthy people at the shelter to prevent the flu from spreading any further.