As South Texas grapples with COVID-19, migrants at camp across border approach herd immunity

Coronavirus

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — While Hidalgo County, in deep South Texas, on Thursday reported 15 more COVID-19 deaths and over 350 new cases, a migrant encampment with asylum-seekers south of the border in Reynosa, Mexico, appears to have very few, if any, coronavirus cases, Border Report has learned.

The migrant encampment in the dangerous border town of Reynosa just a month ago was spiking daily with new coronavirus cases at such an alarming rate that the non-governmental organizations that aid migrants were scrambling to find hotels and quarters to isolate infected families. But on Thursday, Andrea Leiner of Global Response Management, which tests and cares for migrants in the Reynosa encampment, said there has been a significant drop in cases.

“We had an acute spike of COVID about a month ago and we are now seeing significantly less positive cases. One of the things we are looking at now is if the population has herd immunity at this point and most of the folks have had it already,” Leiner told Border Report via a Zoom interview.

The crowded camp conditions included just 10 porta potties for 2,000 people, Leiner said. “The density of the population and lack of sanitation … there were no mitigation policies that we could put in place, so we saw COVID spreading a lot faster and we saw people getting much sicker.”

Signs encouraging social distancing and masks are seen on July 29, 2021, in an encampment in Reynosa, Mexico, where thousands of asylum seekers live. (Photo by The Sidewalk School for Children Asylum Seekers)

But she cautioned that they aren’t getting too comfortable.

“That could change again with a new variant or a new influx of migrants,” Leiner said.

And that influx could happen if the Biden administration begins implementing the Migrant Protection Protocols, or “Remain in Mexico” program. The Supreme Court last week ordered the program to start again after a lawsuit was filed by Texas and Missouri.

Just a few weeks ago, the NGOs Sidewalk School for Children Asylum Seekers, and Angry Tias and Abuelas of the Rio Grande Valley, leased out a 50-room hotel in Reynosa to be used for COVID-19-positive families. However, Cindy Candia of Angry Tias and Abuelas on Thursday said there are “zero families” in the facility and practically no cases in the encampment.

The encampment has a few thousand migrants, and several hundred live at a nearby faith-based shelter, Senda de Vida.

But north of the border, herd immunity is not something officials are talking about at all.

Hidalgo County has had over 110,200 coronavirus cases since the pandemic began. On Thursday, 345 patients were hospitalized with the virus, including 36 children. Five children were in ICU units, Hidalgo County officials reported.

Cameron County, on the Gulf Coast, has had 50,400 cases — fewer than half the number of coronavirus cases that Hidalgo County has had, and Wednesday reported 107 additional cases and 10 deaths. The county also appears to show a decrease in COVID-19 cases at detention facilities where unaccompanied migrant children reside. On Wednesday, there were 11 coronavirus cases at a detention facility in the small town of Los Fresnos, Texas.

This is down significantly from the 58 migrant children who were infected with COVID-19 on Aug. 31 at detention facilities in Cameron County.

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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The mission of BorderReport.com is to provide real-time delivery of the untold local stories about people living, working and migrating along the U.S. border with Mexico. The information is gathered by experienced and trusted Nexstar Media Group journalists hired specifically to cover the border.