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33 migrant girls staying at San Diego Convention Center test positive for COVID-19

At least 27 of the girls, who were transferred to California from a Border Patrol facility in Texas this weekend, tested positive for the virus.

SAN DIEGO — San Diego County Supervisor Nora Vargas confirmed to News 8 Monday afternoon that there were positive cases of COVID-19 among the unaccompanied children seeking asylum and being sheltered at the convention center. More than 30 of the nearly 500 unaccompanied migrant children, girls between the ages of 13 and 17, tested positive, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced later in the day.

At least 27 of the girls, who were transferred to California from a Border Patrol facility in Texas this weekend, tested positive for the virus. HHS Acting Regional Director Bonnie Preston said the cases stem from the Texas facility.

Another six girls tested positive after taking rapid tests while at the convention center. None of the cases are serious, according to the HHS, and all are symptomatic at this time. 

None of the 33 had been hospitalized as of Monday. All were being treated and housed on a different floor of the convention center separate from the main area where the rest of the girls are staying.

About 500 girls are at the San Diego Convention Center, which opened Saturday night as a temporary shelter for unaccompanied children seeking asylum in the United States. The facility will operate as a “way station” where the children will stay until social workers can connect them with relatives or sponsors in the United States.

The asylum seekers are separated into pods of about 50, which won't intermingle.

Around 250 more teens were scheduled to fly into San Diego Monday, for a total of around 750 children held at the San Diego Convention Center.

The girls were tested for COVID-19 before arriving in San Diego and will be tested every three days while staying at the convention center, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The creation of such emergency intake sites is designed to shift the minors -- most of whom are from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador -- more quickly out of U.S. Border Patrol custody while helping to alleviate overcrowding at border holding facilities.

On March 22, city and county officials announced that they would make the convention center available for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to use as a temporary shelter for minors up to age 17.

The average child will stay for about a month at the shelter. During that time, social workers will try to confirm their identity and find relatives or sponsors in the U.S. where they can stay until their asylum cases are adjudicated. A judge must decide whether they can permanently stay in the U.S. or if they must return to their home countries.

The facility is scheduled to run through the end of June. City officials said they must be out by the middle of July because the convention center is scheduled to host its first convention in more than a year in early August.

A recreation area will also be used on the exterior of the facility. The children will not be permitted to leave the facility until they are reunified with family members in the United States or connected with other sponsors.

The Health and Human Services Refugee Resettlement Program will fund the temporary shelter, and additional partners include the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Center for Disease Control and the convention center. 

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