San Diego Convention Center

Dozens of Migrants at San Diego Convention Center COVID-19 Positive

The San Diego Convention center will be used to house some of the thousands of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum in the U.S. Local leaders say this is an emergency response

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What to Know

  • Approximately 476 migrant children arrived at the San Diego Convention Center on Saturday and another 250 arrived on Monday
  • At least 69 have tested positive for COVID-19. All were asymptomatic
  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is sheltering the unaccompanied minor migrants until more permanent arragements can be found during their asylum case proceedings

A second group of unaccompanied teenage migrant girls seeking asylum in the United States was flown to San Diego Monday where they will be sheltered temporarily before being reunited with family elsewhere in the country or moved into sponsor homes.

At least 247 migrant girls arrived late Monday. There are now 723 being sheltered at the convention center through a joint partnership between the county and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Around 250 children are expected to arrive every other day until the convention center reaches its shelter capacity of 1,450, according to HHS spokesperson Bonnie Preston.

There are now at least 69 girls at the convention center who tested positive for COVID-19, Preston said. The majority of the girls tested positive before arriving in San Diego. Six tested positive upon arrival on Saturday and four more who were exposed to positive patients since Saturday have tested positive.

Preston said those who tested positive, along with anyone they may have been in close contact with, were transported separately and being housed separately from others at the convention center. None are symptomatic.

The shelter is expected to reach capacity by April 4.

Another group of migrant girls is expected in San Diego Monday evening. NBC 7's Artie Ojeda has the details.

HHS has implemented COVID-19 safety protocols at the convention center to limit the spread of COVID-19. All of the girls in the care of HHS are being tested every three days, Preston said. Migrants are separated into pods of about 50, which won't intermingle.

The first group of migrants, about 476 girls ages 13 to 17, arrived Saturday evening from Texas while under the custody of immigration authorities, a spokesperson for the Mexican consulate said.

The majority of the migrants were from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

About 500 hundred unaccompanied migrant children have arrived at the San Diego Convention Center where they will be temporarily sheltered. NBC 7's Dave Summers followed their journey from the airport to the convention center.

The girls are expected to stay for about 35 days while caseworkers with South Bay Community Services attempt to contact existing family members in the United States or sponsors who will house the minors while they go through court proceedings for their asylum claims.

County Supervisor Nora Vargas, who toured the facility on Sunday, said 90% of the girls have either family or friends that can be considered sponsors living here in the United States.

The convention center has the ability to house as many as 1,450 migrant children. County leaders got to work on preparing the space, in coordination with FEMA and HHS last week after receiving a call asking for a temporary shelter location for unaccompanied migrant children. While the county operates the facility, it is managed and paid for by HHS.

Photos: Inside the San Diego Convention Center Being Used to Provide Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Minors

The convention center operation will provide food, a place to sleep, educational and recreational activities, and showers. Rady's Children Hospital will lead in providing medical care to the girls at the convention center, San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said.

The kids will not be permitted to leave the convention center until reunification happens.

The government said there were nearly 5,000 children in Border Patrol custody as of Tuesday, March 23, and an additional 11,551 at Department of Health and Human Services shelters.

The convention center is currently vacant after a program to house homeless San Diegans came to an end and before summer events resume at the busy site. The convention center will house the minors until mid-July.

NBC 7's Ramon Galindo reports on the migrant children stating at the convention center.

Across the border, in Tijuana, Mexico, hundreds of teenagers -- sometimes young children and in at least one case, an infant -- have been living in pop-up tents and underneath tarps, video captured by Telemundo 20 found. The migrants have been living in Mexico awaiting their turn to ask for asylum in the U.S.

In recent weeks, the number of unaccompanied minors has dramatically increased, straining the ability of CBP to hold them in their detention facilities until they can be turned over to HHS. The department houses them until they can be placed with relatives or sponsors while the government decides whether they have a legal claim for residency.

This is the first site in California offering this kind of shelter, officials said. Local leaders have offered up the convention center through July. A spokesperson for the convention center said events have been canceled until then but major events are back on the books for August while the center is awaiting reopening guidance from the state.

A total of 500 girls between the ages of 13 and 17, are being flown in from Texas under the custody of immigration authorities, and will then be brought to San Diego. The convention center will be their home for at least the next month or so, until they can be reunited with family or sponsors.
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