Migrant processing center to resume intake; 32 flu cases diagnosed

Updated at 5:59 p.m.

McALLEN — The Central Processing Center here has resumed intake operations for migrants after medical personnel diagnosed more than 30 people in the facility with influenza, according to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection official.

CBP confirmed Tuesday evening that the center had temporarily suspended its intake operations due to a “large number of subjects in custody” displaying what the agency described as flu-like illnesses. High fevers were among the symptoms CBP described Tuesday evening.

On Wednesday, CBP officials said they would resume intake after finding that 32 individuals had influenza.

“…Local leadership commenced actions that involved rigorous testing of individuals within the facility to ensure that individuals who had otherwise been provided initial screenings to the juvenile populations, had not become ill while in our custody,” the CBP official said. “…As a result of that review, mostly performed via thermometer testing of subjects detained at the Central Processing Center, the Rio Grande Valley identified 32 individuals that tested positive for Influenza at the Centralized Processing Center.”

Those affected were subsequently moved to two nearby facilities where they could be held in quarantine, isolating them from the rest of the detained population, the CBP official said on a conference call with the media.

“The 32 subjects who tested positive for Influenza, they continue to be tested, the contracted personnel continue to administer the prescribed medicines for each of the individual subjects,” the CBP official said.

The CBP official did not know the age range of those who were diagnosed.

In addition, the CBP official said that not only was the McAllen center cleaned and sterilized, but the stations in Rio Grande City, Falfurrias, Brownsville, Corpus Christi and “several” of the checkpoints where “individuals could be temporarily held.”

In a statement issued Wednesday afternoon, a CBP spokesperson said: “The U.S. Border Patrol moved swiftly to mitigate the spread of any illness, including sterilizing the facility, conducting medical assessments of all individuals and providing treatment on site or in local hospitals as appropriate. The CPC has resumed normal operations.”

These precautions were taken after Carlos Hernandez-Vasquez, 16, died Monday while in CBP custody. Hernandez-Vazquez was found unresponsive during a welfare check at the U.S. Border Patrol station in Weslaco on Monday morning. Medical staff attempted to save his life but were unsuccessful, CBP officials said.

Asked if Hernandez-Vazquez was in contact with any of the 32 persons diagnosed with influenza at the McAllen center, the CBP official said that was part of an ongoing investigation into the teen’s death.

Hernandez-Vazquez was seen by medical staff Sunday and prescribed Tamiflu after a nurse diagnosed him with having influenza A.

CBP officials are also working to ensure agents in contact with migrants in custody have the proper equipment available.

“…We have ensured that the personal protective equipment is available to them, reviewing our stock, and noting that we are well supplied with PPE,” the CBP official said. “In addition, looking to utilize the federal occupational health service to make available additional influenza vaccines to those agents who may be coming into contact with this population or require the influenza vaccination.”

While Hernandez-Vazquez was initially considered the fifth minor to die in CBP custody, CBS News reported the number now rising to six after learning that the death of a 10-year-old girl from El Salvador had not been previously reported. Citing a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services statement, CBS News reported Wednesday evening that the girl died of fever and respiratory distress while in government custody and after having been transported from a facility operated by the Office of Refugee Resettlement in San Antonio to nursing centers in Phoenix, Arizona and Omaha, Nebraska between May and September 2018.