At least two living units at the now-infamous Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) have been placed in quarantine since yesterday due to possible exposure to COVID-19 in the facility. Totaling about forty-five people, those quarantined have been denied necessary testing to determine the extent of their exposure. This quarantine and inaction on testing come as two guards in the facility, within less than a month’s time, have tested positive for COVID-19. While ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and GEO (the for-profit company that operates the facility) repeatedly refuse the desperate requests by people detained for tests, cases in and around the facility continue to be reported. When the first guard tested positive for the highly contagious disease in late September, 2020, at least one person detained was placed on monitoring in early October due to his exposure within the facility. As entire living units go into quarantine, people detained say that one person from each unit was taken to ICE’s medical unit inside the facility just before the units were placed in quarantine.
Further, La Resistencia has just learned that a third living unit was possibly exposed. On Wednesday, October 21, this third living unit shared their “yard time” with individuals from one of the units placed in quarantine the next day. Despite interacting with people in quarantine, individuals from this third living unit were not isolated or placed in quarantine. Reportedly, they were not even informed that they shared yard time with people from a unit now in quarantine due to a reported case of COVID-19.
Speaking on the phone to La Resistencia this morning about one of the persons taken to the medical unit this week due to their exposure, a person currently detained said this morning, “This detainee was exposed to other detainees that work in the kitchen, and these people that work in the kitchen cook food and also are in contact with other detainees from other pods.” He continued, “I asked her [a nurse] if there are other pods in quarantine, and she said no, only [your] pod is in quarantine.” Likewise, he spoke with a guard in the facility, “I told him we need to get tested, and he [the guard] said, ‘No, you only get testing if you are showing symptoms.’ I told him, no, we can get tested because we were in touch with this detainee who is probably having COVID19, and that is the protocol.” Despite this, the caller was rebuffed.
“Officers come in and out. Other pods are not in quarantine, yet they came into contact with this detainee [with possible COVID-19] and came into contact with us. Contact tracing should be all over the place; more pods should be closed. They are sweeping a lot of stuff under the rug that they don’t want it to be known,” the caller implored.
Throughout this pandemic, ICE has refused to test a person until he or she presents with relevant symptoms. This despite medical knowledge that people are highly contagious up to seventy-two hours before they show symptoms of any kind. Indeed, emerging medical evidence suggests that people most likely infect others in the forty-eight hours before they show symptoms. According to Maru Mora-Villalpando, a community organizer with La Resistencia, “ICE and GEO have health protocols that are based on saving them costs and hiding evidence from the public and people detained about the number of cases in their facilities and the risks they are willing to take with other people’s lives rather than following safety guidelines based on science, medical knowledge, and care.”