Gov. Ralph Northam and Virginia’s two U.S. senators sent separate letters to President Donald Trump requesting that he send a team from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to the immigration detention center in Farmville, a facility where nearly 93 percent of detainees have tested positive for COVID-19.
There are 290 confirmed cases of the coronavirus at the detention center, according to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, with 262 detainees with the virus in isolation or being monitored. As of Tuesday, the facility has 312 detainees. Northam’s spokeswoman, Alena Yarmosky, said that eight staff members have tested positive for the virus.
In a letter dated July 22, which was obtained by 8News, Northam urges Trump to have the CDC, the nation’s top public health agency, intervene immediately.
“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. “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.”
On Wednesday, Sen Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) sent the president a joint letter requesting that an overall assessment of the facility be conducted by the CDC.
“The Farmville ICE facility and surrounding community now face a dire situation where almost every detainee at the Farmville facility has tested positive for COVID-19,” the senators warned Trump. “This presents a clear risk to individuals within the facility but also endangers the broader community as facility staff and released detainees have interaction with the general public.”
The Virginia Department of Health reached out to the detention center to offer help with testing, and even scheduled an event for July 21 in consultation with the state’s National Guard, according to a Northam administration official briefed on the planned event. The Farmville Detention Center canceled the event just a few days before it was supposed to take place, the official said.
The letters from Northam and the senators come after a federal lawsuit was filed on behalf of a group of detainees earlier this month. The suit 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.
ICE provided 8News a statement Thursday that had similar language to a previous one sent regarding 8News’ investigation into the transfer of undocumented immigrants from Arizona and Florida.
“ICA Farmville offered testing to all detainees from July 1 to 3 to ascertain the scope of COVID-19 cases at the facility,” an ICE spokeswoman, Kaitlyn Pote, wrote in an email to 8News. “The majority of those who tested positive are asymptomatic, but are being closely monitored and receiving appropriate medical care. Currently, one detainee is hospitalized and three detainees exhibiting symptoms are being monitored by the medical staff at ICA Farmville.”
Yarmosky told 8News that the governor is “deeply concerned about increases in COVID-19 cases within ICE detention centers, most notably at the Farmville Detention Center in Virginia,” and that the CDC has responded to the request for assistance.
“The CDC responded and is currently working with state and local health officials to further assess the situation,” Yarmosky said. “The Governor appreciates their quick response, and is hopeful that they will intervene as soon as possible.”