A San Diego County task force has been set up to determine a possible link between Mexico and the growing number of positive Coronavirus in the South Bay. But while experts look for a connection, officers at the port of entry are voicing concerns about their safety.
“We’re exposed to everyone,” said Jorge Llanos, president of NTEU Chapter 105, the union representing about 4,000 Customs and Border Protection (CBP) employees.
Llanos says there is more than 3,500 port of entry officers caught in the “crossfire” of two countries trying to manage Coronavirus cases.
According to CBP, there have been 41 confirmed positive cases among its employees in California.
Llanos would not confirm how many of those cases involve workers in the San Diego Sector. He would only say local cases are “increasing on a daily basis.”
CBP says cross border vehicle traffic has decreased by 75%, and pedestrian traffic has dropped 83%. But Llanos is calling on his agency to do a better job of protecting its employees.
“We keep stressing to the agency to give us the equipment. We keep informing the public to safeguard themselves, because if we all get sick, what does that mean for the border. Who is going to protect the country,” Llanos said.
Officers have been provided masks, gloves, and goggles, but supplies, he says, are limited. Llanos would like to see the addition of plexiglass barriers. He’s also asking cross border travelers to do a better job following face protection and social distancing orders.
“At least 50% are not following the guidelines and they expect us to be Superman, but we’re not. We’re humans like everyone else," Llanos said.
A spokesperson for CBP provided the following statement:
“U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s highest priority is to ensure the health, safety, and security of our workforce and the American people. CBP continues to support the whole of America's response to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and protect the public. CBP’s dedicated agents, officers, and mission support personnel are working tirelessly to protect America’s borders, slow the spread of the virus and facilitate the cross-border flow of food, medicine, and other essential commerce. If CBP observes an individual who has symptoms of COVID-19 or who otherwise meets the CDC’s COVID-19 screening guidelines, we will refer the individual to the CDC, DHS medical contractors, or local health officials for enhanced health screening. While confronting the many operational challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, CBP remains steadfast in its commitment to facilitating lawful trade and ensuring the security of our supply chains.”