Doctor: Border detention centers are ‘tinderboxes for infectious-disease outbreaks’

BALTIMORE — Americans are still wrapping their minds around the fact that they’ll be spending a whole lot more time indoors as the coronavirus outbreak persists, but we should all take comfort in the fact that we can do so from our own homes. Unfortunately, those being confined to U.S. border detention centers don’t have that same luxury. These individuals are being put at an elevated risk of contracting Covid-19, influenza, and other highly contagious diseases, according to recent research at the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine.

“Detention centers have become tinderboxes for infectious-disease outbreaks,” warns Dr. Mark Travassos, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at UMSOM and a pediatric infectious disease specialist in the UMSOM Center for Vaccine Development and Global Health (CVD), in a statement.

Let’s put the novel coronavirus aside for a moment. Even before this terrible new virus emerged, thousands of detained migrants and asylum seekers were quarantined due to chickenpox, mumps, and influenza outbreaks. Furthermore, just this past year, at least seven young children passed away due to influenza while supposedly under care of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency.

With these numbers in mind, it isn’t a stretch to say that Covid-19 could devastate populations being kept in these facilities.

“Children and adults are being held in crowded conditions without adequate sanitation or medical care,” the study reads.

Researchers also noted that the emotional and physical trauma and stress these people are being subjected to usually results in a weakened immune system in the first place.

This study wasn’t specifically conducted with coronavirus in mind, but it’s findings in today’s landscape are chilling. The study goes on to advocate for all people being held in these facilities, as well as all personnel, to be vaccinated against influenza and the like. Obviously, that isn’t going to work for Covid-19. The most optimistic projections have a vaccine arriving in around a year.

There’s no easy answer here, but children, adults, and families being kept in border detention facilities can’t just be forgotten. Politics and nationalities aside, they are still people and even if you consider them “criminals” for trying to enter the United States, no court in the world would sentence anyone to a coronavirus infection. At the very least, these facilities should try and introduce social distancing and increased hygiene policies.

The study is published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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