SAN DIEGO — Officials say 82 of the nearly 750 migrant children staying at the San Diego Convention Center have tested positive for COVID-19.
The unaccompanied minors are tested for the coronavirus before they leave for San Diego, when they get here, and every three days after their arrival.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said in a 3 p.m. update Tuesday that the convention center saw 27 cases of coronavirus on Saturday, when 500 girls started arriving from Texas. An additional 32 cases were identified in a second wave of 247 girls who arrived at the center Monday night. The remainder of the cases were found via onsite testing by Rady Children’s Hospital, HHS said.
HHS said none of the minors who tested positive have required hospitalization for COVID-19. HHS contracted with Rady’s to provide medical care for the children at the facility, including primary care, urgent care and medical screening on-site.
Children who test positive after arrival are removed from the group and kept in a separate area on a separate floor to ensure the welfare of others. Children who have been exposed to an infected child are also put in a separate group from children who have tested negative for the virus, HHS said.
The first group of teens seeking asylum in the U.S. got to San Diego Saturday evening on three charter flights from Texas. They were taken by bus to the convention center.
City and county officials announced the decision to transition the convention center into a migrant shelter on March 22. Leaders said the site will be used for about 90 days with the average stay for each child averaging 30-35 days.
The girls, ages 13 to 17, are provided with food, medical care, a place to sleep and showers. City leaders said the girls will also have a recreation area on the exterior of the facility. They’re not allowed to leave the convention center shelter until they’re reunified with family members in the U.S. or connected with other sponsors.
The Health and Human Services Refugee Resettlement Program is funding the shelter with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Center for Disease Control and the convention center serving as partners.
The decision to offer the federal government space for the migrants drew criticism from some San Diegans and local leaders. Congressman Darrell Issa, R-50, released a statement Monday calling the decision to have teachers at the center outrageous.
Sixteen teachers are already inside the convention center offering in-person teaching. Another 900 have volunteered to sign up, according to officials.
“For more than a year, parents and students in San Diego County have waited for educators to answer one question: When will our schools reopen with in-person instruction only? And for a year, they’ve been told to wait. The decision to provide in-person instruction to illegal migrants is outrageous and parents have every right to be angry,” Issa’s full statement said.
The Congressman said Tuesday that he’s not objecting to in-person teaching at the convention center. He said he’s upset that it’s not being offered to all San Diego students. He points the finger at teachers unions as the main problem.
“The hypocrisy, of these undocumented girls getting in-person education, shows the ridiculousness of the political science of this COVID virus has become,” Issa said. “When you look at San Diego Unified or L.A., what we see are big powerful unions that are, in fact, keeping teachers from doing their job. … They speak for the teachers, even if the majority of the teachers do not agree.”
In response to Issa’s remarks, the San Diego Education Association issued a statement: “If Representative Issa and Supervisor Desmond would spend less time on political grandstanding and more time paying attention to what’s happening in their own backyards, they would know that educators in San Diego Unified have been providing in-person learning opportunities to students for months and will be offering in-person instruction to all students in less than two weeks. They would also know that it is currently spring break in San Diego Unified and that our joint letter with San Diego Unified School District was seeking volunteers who would be willing to give up their time off to provide support for children who have gone through a traumatic experience of fleeing their homelands alone.”
County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Paul Gothold said all children in California, regardless of immigration status, have a constitutional right to education.
“We also have a moral obligation to ensure a bright future for our children,” Gothold said.