Immigrant rights advocates said more than 50 percent of the immigrants detained at Mesa Verde Detention facility tested positive for COVID-19.
At a press conference last week in front of the detention center, the Rapid Response Network of Kern, Kern Welcoming & Extending Solidarity to Immigrants, ACLU of Southern California, and The UFW Foundation called on the Kern County Public Health Department and other decision makers to address the outbreak.
“We are fighting infection rates, and we see that there is a complete disregard for the well-being and public health for those that are within, and it’s not just detainees but also staff that comes in and out of the facility,” said Maira Rios, legal and advocacy assistant with the ACLU SoCal.
Mesa Verde requires local monitoring and enforced accountability by the county’s public health department. However, advocates say detainees cannot practice safety measures in the facility. Detainees can’t social distance, and are not being provided with proper PPE, advocates say.
“We are in the middle of a pandemic, and we know that social distancing and PPE are essential,” said Rios. “They are not getting that in there. They are not properly social distancing themselves because they do not have the capacity to.”
One of the six indicators put forth by Governor Newsom’s plan to reopen the state, is the ability to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks in facilities, which are vulnerable to infection. However, no such plan has been developed or shared with the community by the state for this facility, according to advocates.
Carolina E. was detained inside Mesa Verde for five months. She said there is not proper sanitation.
“The conditions there are not very good,” she said. “There are 100 people in the dorm. There is no social distance, (and) the beds are three feet apart.”
Carolina said it is also difficult to access medical care.
“This situation is inhuman,” she said. “People in here have done nothing wrong but look for opportunity.”
To date there have been COVID-19 infections reported at each civil detention facility in the state of California, according to advocates, with an outbreak of more than 160 individuals occurring at the Otay Mesa Detention Facility — the largest in the country.
Currently Mesa Verde still has tests pending.
“The COVID-19 outbreak was preventable, but because of the way that they are keeping detainees, we have this crisis, and now it can affect our community at large,” said Rios.
Rios said when COVID-19 spreads in these facilities, patients take up ICU bed capacity. As of Thursday, there were 43 ICU beds available in Kern County, according to the California Department of Public Health.