FARMVILLE, Va. (WRIC) — The immigration detention center in Farmville struggled to mitigate a widespread COVID-19 outbreak that infected more than 300 detainees from June to early July due to the facility’s housing design and testing delays, according to an August report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The nation’s top public health agency sent a 10-person team, made up of clinicians, labortorians and epidemiologists, to the facility on Aug. 10 after Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and Virginia’s two U.S. senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, sent separate letters to President Donald Trump requesting that the CDC intervene and assist with the outbreak immediately.
In its report, the CDC concluded the facility’s limited number of rooms prevented it from properly quarantining detainees and that delays and issues with testing samples affected its ability “to implement appropriate medical isolation and timely quarantine cohorting.”
“The COVID-19 outbreak in the FDC was difficult to manage and mitigate due to the housing design and limited number of rooms to medically isolate or quarantine persons who were sick or were waiting for test results to return,” the CDC report states. “The initial focus of testing symptomatic persons, long delays in receiving testing results, and issues that prevented samples from being processed by the laboratory limited the FDC’s ability to implement appropriate medical isolation and timely quarantine cohorting.”
The outbreak at Farmville during the summer, the worst at any such facility, was fueled by the transfer of 74 ICE detainees from different facilities in Arizona and Florida.
The detention center, privately owned by Richmond-based Immigration Centers of America, can house 700 people. The transfer, which led to a federal lawsuit claiming that Farmville didn’t follow protocol, increased the number of detainees at Farmville from 399 to 473. After confirming four cases, the facility began testing all of the transfers and 51 of the 74 transfers were positive.
Nineteen of the 23 transfers who tested negative were moved to a dorm that “had been vacated and cleaned.” The remaining four were each moved to separate dorms with other detainees, however, on June 16 one of them began feeling symptoms and eventually, from June 17 to July 2, all four tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
Before the CDC team arrived, 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.
The CDC warned that the threat of the virus spreading in the facility is not over and suggested several procedures to follow, including developing ways to provide more space for detainees in dorms.
“The risk of reintroduction of SARS-CoV-2 into the FDC still exists,” the report said. “Continued and enhanced surveillance of symptoms among detained persons, staff, and visitors; testing of detained persons (including at the time of transfer and release) and staff; prompt medical isolation (including exclusion from indoor or outdoor recreation or assigned jobs) for persons testing positive; consistent implementation of medical isolation for persons testing positive and quarantine for their close contacts; serial testing for close contacts who are quarantined as cohorts; and providing additional spacing in dormitories and bunk bed assignments will remain critical activities to reduce COVID-19 among detained persons in this facility.”
At this time, Farmville is at less than 30 percent capacity and has no confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus.
“ICE and ICA Farmville are carefully reviewing the recommendations in the CDC’s report. ICE prioritizes the health and safety of detainees in its custody, and throughout the COVID-19 global pandemic, ICE has implemented CDC recommendations for managing and mitigating the spread of the virus,” an ICE spokesperson said in a statement Thursday. “Currently, ICA Farmville has further reduced the population in each dorm to allow for greater spacing of detainees during the day and for additional spacing between occupied beds.”
This story is developing. Check back for updates.