CIUDAD VICTORIA, Mexico (AP) – An international emergency response organization reported the first confirmed case of COVID-19 among migrants living in a tented camp of asylum seekers on the US-Mexico border on Tuesday.
Global Response Management said that a person in Camp Matamoros, Tamaulipas across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas had tested positive.
“Aggressive isolation and investigation measures have been taken,” the US aid agency said on Twitter.
About 2,000 asylum seekers live in tents along the border. Migrants from Central America and other parts of the world have been stranded by the suspension of asylum hearings by the United States due to the pandemic until at least mid-July.
Last week, Andrea Leiner, a GRM spokeswoman, said they had taken steps to reduce the risk of the virus spreading, but admitted it was challenging with confirmed infections popping up among U.S. and Mexican immigration officials and residents of both sides of the border.
They had placed tents several feet apart, leaving them open for ventilation and everyone sleeping from head to toe to reduce the chance of transfer while people slept.
Two immigration officials from Tamaulipas State, who asked for anonymity because they had no jurisdiction to discuss the matter, said the infected person was a Mexican citizen who was deported from Reynosa from the United States earlier in June and who was on weekends camp arrived.
Four other people the young woman contacted had been tested negative, officials said.
Asylum seekers began to cluster in border towns such as Matamoros under the US policy commonly known as “ Stay in Mexico, ” in which asylum seekers can file their first asylum application, but have to wait in Mexico for the lengthy process.
More than 60,000 asylum seekers have returned to Mexico to wait for hearings before the US court since January 2019, when the US introduced its policy on “migrant protection protocols”.
Since the pandemic arrived, people were concerned that the overcrowded tents and lack of proper sanitation could lead to infections in the Matamoros camp.
GRM started working in the camp last September. The organization provides medical treatment with a team of medical volunteers.
Dr. Michele Heisler, medical director at Physicians for Human Rights and professor of internal medicine and public health at the University of Michigan, characterized GRM’s work in the camp as “Herculean.” She criticized US policies to create the situation, saying that asylum seekers should be released on parole to remain with family members in the US while their cases are being dealt with.
“Local and national health authorities in Mexico should take immediate action to improve access to COVID-19 testing and care in Matamoros,” said Heisler. “The families living in the Matamoros tent city are among the most vulnerable in the hemisphere for the spread of COVID-19.”
Mexico’s own national case load continues to grow steadily, with 5,432 confirmed cases reported Tuesday to bring the nationwide total to over 226,000. Confirmed deaths from COVID-19 increased by 648 on Tuesday, bringing the total to 27,769 deaths.
San Diego AP writer Julie Watson contributed to this report.
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