McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Nearly two-thirds of all U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers and agents infected with COVID-19 work in Texas.
A total of 13,257 CBP employees, which include Border Patrol agents, have been infected with coronavirus, including 4,551 from Texas.
CBP employees have, by far, the highest rate of infections in Texas, which shares a 1,241-mile-long border with Mexico and 29 ports of entry — the most of any state.
There have been nearly 2,000 coronavirus infections among CBP employees in California — the second-most; followed by 1,611 infections of CBP staff in Arizona. CBP officers in New Mexico have suffered 717 infections, according to the agency’s latest data from Dec. 22.
Fifty-nine CBP employees have died since the pandemic began, the agency reports.
In South Texas, where there has been a year-long surge of asylum-seeking migrants crossing the border in between legal ports of entry, border agents and officers on a daily basis risk exposure to COVID-19.
A CBP spokesman told Border Report the agency has in place protocols to reduce the spread of the virus, but bailouts and foot chases in the field that lead to arrests often involve close contact between agents and hundreds of people who could be carriers of the virus.
Border Report has requested infection rates for CBP personnel in the Rio Grande Valley Sector but that information was not provided.
A CBP spokesman, instead, sent this statement: “CBP employees continue to deliver on vital agency missions, as they have through the course of the pandemic, and we are grateful for their work on behalf of the American people. We also continue to update our workplace safety protocols to reflect the latest guidance from CDC and public and occupational health experts.”
This comes as the Centers for Disease Control clarified the recommended isolation measures and protocols to help stop the spread of the omicron variant. On Friday morning, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said the omicron virus coming on the heels of the delta variant has stymied health officials.
“The past few weeks have been challenging for all of us. Omicron has rapidly become the predominant variant and cases have substantially increased to rates higher than we have seen at any point throughout this pandemic,” Walensky said during her first telephonic media briefing in over a year.
“It has been nearly two years since the CDC activated its emergency response from COVID-19. Throughout that time this virus has changed and is constantly throwing us curve balls. As this virus changes, the science changes,” Walensky said.
On Friday, Walensky issued detailed quarantine recommendations for COVID-19 patients, following the agency’s recent recommendation to cut the quarantine period in half from 10 days to five.
Walensky said patients with absolutely no symptoms on Day 5 can emerge from isolation as long as they “wear a well-fitted mask at all time.” She urged them to away from restaurants, travel, large crowds and avoid family members and those who are immuno-compromised.
The CDC has been under fire this week for revising its isolation guidelines as the omicron variant surges throughout the country. This particular strain is highly contagious and infections start within a day or two of exposure, rather than weeks into it as previous strains have, and the agency said that is what initially prompted the quarantine recommendation changes.
However, Walensky on Friday appeared to walk back those initial guidelines and said her staff is working with scientists throughout the globe for the best safety measures.
“Scientists throughout CDC have worked every day to stay current in our recommendations, incorporating the latest science into our guidance and partnering with state and local public health to provide recommendations that are both feasible and can be implemented in communities across the country,” Walensky said.
In South Texas, the first cases of omicron were detected this week beginning with one case in Cameron County and five in Hidalgo County and another in Laredo, in Webb County.
Hidalgo County on Friday reported 471 new cases of COVID-19 and one death.
Cameron County on Thursday reported 724 cases and three deaths.
The Texas Department of State Health Services (TDSHS) on Friday reported there were nearly 2,000 COVID-19 cases in El Paso County, on the West Texas border — the fifth most cases of any county in the state. Webb County had over 4,100 cases, according to the agency.
On Wednesday, the City of Laredo imposed a Declaration of Public Health Emergency signed by Mayor Pete Saenz. The order restricts all city-related travel and training by employees and all city meetings to be held virtually. All city-owned facilities will be limited to 50% capacity, including libraries, according to a statement on the city’s website.
Saenz told Border Report on Friday that the order is designed to “primarily reinforce city staff mitigation protocols,” in light of the surge in new cases in this border city of 250,000.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.