FARMVILLE, Va. (WRIC) — The nation’s top public health agency has sent a 10-person team to an immigration detention center in Farmville, Va., that has struggled to maintain a major COVID-19 outbreak that has infected nearly nine out of 10 detainees at the facility.
The team, made up of clinicians, labortorians and epidemiologists from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, arrived Monday and will work with the local health department to conduct an assessment of the ICE detention center, according to Gov. Ralph Northam’s office.
A federal judge granted an injunction on Tuesday blocking the detention center, which is run by Richmond-based Immigration Centers of America, from transferring detainees into the facility.
Last month, sensing the dire situation at the facility, Gov. Ralph Northam and Virginia’s two U.S. senators sent separate letters to President Donald Trump urging him to send the CDC to the detention center.
“Virginians in congregate housing, such as the Farmville facility, are especially vulnerable to COVID-19. This makes the need to identify and control the transmission in such settings even more urgent,” the governor wrote in the letter obtained by 8News. “Therefore, to ensure the safety of those who live and work in the Farmville Detention Center, as well as the surrounding community, I request that the CDC respond to and assess the situation at the facility, including conducting PCR testing on all residents and staff, as soon as possible.”
Farmville is experiencing the worst coronavirus outbreak at any such facility in the country. According to ICE, 339 total detainees at the facility have tested positive for the novel coronavirus and 259 are currently under observation or in isolation with the virus. As of Friday, there were 298 individuals detained at the facility.
The project’s official description states that the CDC team will assess “the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 infection among workers and detainees, risk factors for infection among workers and detainees, infection control and prevention practices in the facility, and transmission dynamics among workers, detainees, and the surrounding community.” The CDC told 8News that the team will then “develop recommendations to reduce the likelihood of transmission at the facility.”
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement told 8News on Tuesday that the agency’s coordination with Virginia and the CDC showcases how ICE “seeks to provide the highest quality of care to individuals in the agency’s custody.”
“As an example of ICE’s continued efforts to this end, ICE coordinated with both the Commonwealth of Virginia and the CDC to conduct additional voluntary testing of staff and detainees and to review CDC protocols in place at the facility,” an ICE spokesperson, Kaitlyn Pote, said in a statement.
Last week, outrage swelled after a 72-year-old Canadian man who was in custody at the facility died after spending nearly a month in the hospital with the virus. The man, James T. Hill, was scheduled to be deported back to Canada when he reported shortness of breath. Hill was admitted to the hospital on July 10 and then tested positive for the novel coronavirus the next day.
After the news broke, Del. Ibraheem S. Samirah (D-Fairfax) called on the governor to close down the detention center. “This tragedy was so obviously avoidable that it shines light on how dehumanizing & reprehensible immigration enforcement is in the US,” Samirah tweeted.
A federal lawsuit filed on behalf of a group of detainees claims that Farmville, an all-adult male facility, failed to test new residents for the virus, did not make transfers go through a 14-day isolation period and forces detainees to sleep in packed dorm rooms. The lawsuit came as Farmville accepted a transfer of undocumented immigrants from Arizona and Florida, which the suit alleges led to a growth in cases at the facility.