Dozens quarantined at hotels amid growing flu outbreak at migrant shelter

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SAN DIEGO — County health officials Friday announced more than a dozen new flu cases at a local immigrant shelter housing asylum seekers flown from Texas to San Diego by federal immigration authorities.

On Thursday, the county had identified 16 people at the shelter who have an “influenza-like illness,” according to Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the county’s deputy public health officer. By Friday, the county said there were 13 new cases of the illness for a total amount of 29 cases, according to county spokesman José Álvarez.

County health officials on Thursday began treating those affected. Twenty-four of those migrants were being quarantined at various hotels across the county, Álvarez said. They are staying in rooms where there is no ventilation, heating or AC connecting with other rooms.

The patients were being housed at a shelter in Bankers Hill operated by the San Diego Rapid Response Network, a coalition of human-rights, service and faith-based organizations such as Jewish Family Service of San Diego. The county Board of Supervisors voted in January to authorize the SDRRN to use the former courthouse as a temporary shelter.

“Our staff, in conjunction with those of Jewish Family Services and others, are following established procedures to ensure these individuals and their families are well before they leave San Diego for other destinations,” Sidelinger said.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security began flying detained asylum- seeking immigrants from the Rio Grande Valley in Texas to San Diego on May 17. Many of the detainees are families that have claimed asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border and are being sent to San Diego County for processing.

Federal immigration authorities announced the plan last week to fly asylum-seeking immigrants to San Diego due to an unprecedented immigration crush in the Rio Grande Valley. Customs and Border Protection agents have detained an average of 4,500 migrants each day this year. CBP officials have also said they are currently holding roughly 8,000 people in the Rio Grande Valley, double the agency’s capacity in the area.

Immigration authorities are operating 10 jets between San Diego and Texas with roughly 130 people aboard per flight. Local CBP agents aim to process detained asylum seekers within 72 hours. At that point, they are often released into the county with an ankle monitor to ensure they attend the hearing for their asylum claim.

The county defines a flu outbreak as one person being diagnosed with the virus and a second developing the illness within 72 hours. County officials said they plan to continue monitoring the shelter for flu-like symptoms and illnesses to ensure that they do not spread throughout the facility or the surrounding communities.

“Our early efforts to create a safe and professionally-staffed shelter for legal migrant families has protected the greater San Diego region,” said county Supervisor Nathan Fletcher. “Our rigorous screening process and attentive medical staff is what has allowed us to quickly identify this issue and take steps to address it.”

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