Del Rio bridge shantytown could result in COVID-19 outbreak

Conditions in the immigrant encampment under the Del Rio Bridge are highly conducive to a COVID-19 outbreak, experts warn.

Last week, thousands of Haitian immigrants illegally crossed at the U.S.-Mexico border near the Texas town of Del Rio. At one point, the number of immigrants encamping under the Del Rio Bridge on the U.S. side is believed to have reached 15,000. U.S. Customs and Border Protection has scrambled to manage the crisis.

"What you have at Del Rio is a large encampment of people who are refugees from Haiti. And one thing we know about transmissible diseases is anytime you have an area that's densely populated, it promotes the spread of that disease," said Angela Clendenin, instructional assistant professor at the Texas A&M School of Public Health.

Public health officials may have to worry about more than just COVID-19 among the Haitians in Del Rio, according to Georges Benjamin, executive director at the American Public Health Association.


"You also have to worry about influenza, diarrheal diseases, or pick a vaccine-preventable disease like measles," Benjamin said. "I have no reason to think that they will have a measles outbreak. But all you need is one person come through with any of those childhood diseases for which they're not vaccinated."

The CBP requires illegal immigrants to wear masks, but enforcing that will likely prove difficult.

"Masking has been proven to be very difficult to enforce in large settings like that," Clendenin said.

A CBP spokesman recently told the Washington Post all immigrants in custody who exhibit signs of illness are referred to local health systems for testing. Immigrants who are COVID-19 positive must quarantine.

Yet, that system would not detect asymptomatic cases, which could also lead to an outbreak.

"That's been the battle with COVID," Clendenin said. "From the beginning, you've had a disease that is transmissible, and 20%-50% of cases have been asymptomatic. It's hard to identify those cases, and it's hard to get them isolated and then to get their close contacts quarantined."

On Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said many of the immigrants were "not intending to stay here for a lengthy period of time," when asked why illegal immigrants were not required to provide proof of a COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test.

But some of the Haitians are likely to stay in the United States for an extended period.

To alleviate the crowding in the encampment, the CBP has released some immigrants with a "Notice to Appear" order that requires them to appear before the immigration court system for a deportation hearing, which can take years. It is not clear if those immigrants have been tested for COVID-19.

The CBP has also tried to alleviate the crowding by moving some of the Haitians to other, less crowded areas of the border. About 1,000 have been deported.

The extent to which the immigrants at Del Rio are being tested for COVID-19 is unclear.


The CPB did not answer emails inquiring about COVID-19 testing among the immigrants at Del Rio.

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Tags: Healthcare, Coronavirus, illegal immigrants, illegal immigration, Vaccination, Haiti, Texas, Mexico, Mexican border, Delta Variant

Original Author: David Hogberg

Original Location: Del Rio bridge shantytown could result in COVID-19 outbreak