Otay Mesa Detention Center

Officials Confirm First US Detained Immigrant Death From COVID-19

This marked the first reported death from the virus among about 30,000 people in immigration custody

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A detainee at the Otay Mesa Detention Center died from complications of COVID-19, San Diego County health officials confirmed Wednesday.

The detainee was a 57-year-old male who was hospitalized in late April, according to Dr. Eric McDonald, Medical Director with the County Epidemiology Immunization Branch. The detainee died early Wednesday.

This marked the first reported death from the virus among about 30,000 people in immigration custody.

"It is the largest outbreak in the county of San Diego," McDonald said. "We have been working in support of that federal facility."

McDonald said the county has been supporting the outbreak control effort at that facility by providing infection control advice, testing and testing equipment, and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

McDonald did not provide any more details surrounding the death of the individual.

According to ICE, 140 detainees have tested positive for COVID-19 at the detention facility as of May 5.

NBC 7 reached out to CoreCivic Inc., the private company that operates the detention center, who sent the following statement:

We are deeply saddened to report that a detainee who had been hospitalized from our Otay Mesa Detention Center has passed away Wednesday morning. The individual had been transported to a nearby hospital on April 24 due to symptoms of COVID-19.

We had been in close contact with our government partner, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), about the health of the detainee and immediately notified them of the individual’s passing. The exact cause of death is pending an official determination.  We extend our heartfelt sympathy to this individual’s loved ones.

Detainee Anthony Alexandre, who has protested the treatment of detainees inside the facility, told NBC 7 that he saw the detainee who passed away. Alexandre said the man was missing a foot and last saw him gasping for air in the general population pod before he was transferred to the hospital.

"Why did they wait for him to get so sick that he was gasping for air?" Alexandre said. "I'm afraid if the governor doesn't do something soon, we are doomed."

Last month, the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego & Imperial Counties filed a class-action lawsuit against ICE and CoreCivic Inc. demanding they dramatically reduce the number of people detained at Otay Mesa to protect their health and safety in light of this pandemic.

ACLU sent out the following statement regarding the death of the immigrant detainee:

"This is a terrible tragedy, and it was entirely predictable and preventable. For months, public health experts and corrections officials have warned that detention centers would be Petri dishes for the spread of COVID-19 — and a death trap for thousands of people in civil detention. Unless ICE acts quickly to release far more people from detention, they will keep getting sick and many more will die. Since the Trump administration began, 40 people have died in ICE detention. The administration’s obsession with incarcerating people was dangerous before COVID-19, and now it is a death sentence.”

The first positive case at Otay Mesa was a guard whose test result was announced on March 31. The facility is designed to hold up to 1,970 ICE detainees and U.S. Marshals Service inmates but has lowered its count in recent weeks.

As of April 26, it held 662 immigration detainees and 325 Marshals Service inmates. Dozens are being released this week under a court order.

CORONAVIRUS IN SAN DIEGO COUNTY: What You Need to Know: Latest Developments | Resources | How to Help | What Has Reopened? | Photos: Coronavirus Impact in SD

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