A United States-based disaster relief organization confirmed the first coronavirus cases among asylum seekers living a tent encampment at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Global Response Management said Tuesday that three people in the Matamoros, Tamaulipas camp across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas had tested positive.
The organization said two other asylum seekers were awaiting their test results.
‘We have 5 patients in isolation: 2 who are awaiting results of testing and 3 who have tested positive on antibody testing,’ GRM Executive Director Helen Perry told Reuters on Tuesday. ‘We are taking an aggressive approach to contact tracing and isolation in the hopes that we can catch infections early and prevent potential spread as much as possible.’
GRM has conducted 344 tests so far, including more than 100 over the past week. Some volunteers have also been tested for the ravaging virus.
At least 2,000 asylum seekers are living in tents along the border. Migrants from Central America and other parts of the world have been stranded by the Trump administration’s suspension of asylum hearings due to the pandemic through at least mid-July.
Last week, Andrea Leiner, a spokeswoman for GRM, said they had implemented measures to try to reduce the risk of the virus’ spread, but conceded it was a challenge with confirmed infections cropping up among U.S. and Mexican immigration officials and in residents on both sides of the border.
Tents at the camp are separated three feet apart. It leaves them open for ventilation and everyone sleeps head to toe to curtail the chances of transmission while people sleep.
Asylum seekers began pooling in border cities like Matamoros under the U.S. policy commonly known as ‘Remain in Mexico,’ in which asylum seekers can make their initial request for U.S. asylum, but have to wait in Mexico for the lengthy process to play out.
More than 60,000 asylum-seekers have been returned to Mexico to wait for hearings in U.S. court since January 2019, when the U.S. introduced its ‘Migrant Protection Protocols’ policy.
There had been concern since the arrival of the pandemic that the crowded 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.
Mexico has reported more than 220,000 confirmed COVID-19 infections and more than 27,000 deaths from the disease.