SAN DIEGO — Thirty-seven of the hundreds of unaccompanied minors staying at the San Diego Convention Center have tested positive for COVID-19.
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services confirmed to FOX 5 Monday afternoon that 27 cases were identified at the new migrant shelter established at the convention center. HHS Acting Regional Director Bonnie Preston said the cases stemmed from a Border Patrol facility in Texas, where the girls were housed before coming to San Diego.
Another six girls tested positive Monday after taking rapid tests at the convention center, officials said. Four more tested positive late Monday afternoon.
None of the cases are serious and all are symptomatic, according to HHS.
Up to 500 girls ages 13-17 got to the convention center this weekend after flying on three charter flights from Texas. An additional 250 teens were expected to arrive on Monday.
Local nonprofit SBCS is the lead in providing services for the unaccompanied minors at the convention center. Nonprofit leaders said the girls were tested for COVID-19 before arriving and will be tested every three days. They are separated into pods of about 50, which won’t intermingle.
“Everyone universally said, ‘These girls are so well behaved,’ and I can attest to that,” Mayor Todd Gloria said. “For having 500 girls under one roof, it was very quiet, it was very organized. They were great guests.”
The children are being sent to San Diego from overcrowded border detention facilities, where kids are not supposed to be held for more than 72 hours. Preston said the girls who tested positive are being sheltered away from the rest of the migrant girls under COVID-19 protocol. Administrators say the positive cases are not changing the overall goal of making sure the teenage girls are safe.
“We welcome them in their language. We sit them down and offer them something to eat,” San Diego County Supervisor Nora Vargas said.
The shelter can house up to 1,450 people if needed. How many will come to San Diego is still a question mark. The decision to bring migrants to the convention center has drawn 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.
“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,” the full statement read.
Despite the pushback, city leaders said they’ve seen an outpouring of support for the young ladies. Dozens of grassroots groups want to send gift bags, toys and other items of comfort to the young ladies.
“These girls are so helpless, and they are frightened and terrified,” said Jen Fellows, a woman wanting to help the migrant girls. “And if we can give them any bit of service, love, hope or anything, we want to be able to do that.”
City leaders are working to set up a portal for volunteer and charity groups that want to help out. They expect it to take a few days to get up and running. SBCS said anyone who would like to support efforts at the convention center can visit their website.