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Full Blown COVID-19 Outbreak at Tacoma Detention Center

La Resistencia  |  Issue: August 2021

28 new COVID cases reported in just one day. Outbreak spreads to detainees that have been under ICE custody for over a year. Total COVID cases since June reached 172 people.

Northwest Detention Center entrance sign

Tacoma, WA –  A full blown COVID-19 outbreak has spread to people that have been detained for over a year under Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody at the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) reaching now 172 cases since June 6th, when the Biden administration began authorizing the detention of asylum seekers, transferring them throughout the country, and exposing them to COVID-19. 

On Monday, La Resistencia, a community volunteer group fighting to end all detentions and deportations in Washington State, received a call from one of their leaders detained describing a dire situation; “On Saturday we were given the COVID test, there were five of us in B2 that have been sick for a while. I’ve had headaches, cough and fever for over 4 days. Today I was moved with 2 others to quarantine in the same cell, one of them is positive and the other person was still waiting for the COVD test result, he showed symptoms as well. This person went to the medical unit and didn’t come back.” Today, because ICE is forced to release news of COVID-19 cases at NWDC due to pending litigation, ICE sent a notice to a district judge describing 28 new cases of COVID-19 in just one day.

illustration showing Covid cases

As of today, 8 GEO guards have also tested positive for COVID, as well as one ICE Health Services employee that worked in the medical isolation unit.

Amongst those with new cases is a person that served his full prison sentence of 21 years, who had COVID while in Department of Corrections custody last year. His family reports he had a severe COVID case that landed him in the hospital, and since then he suffers long term COVID symptoms: fatigue, slurred speech, and difficulty breathing. Yet, he was transferred after finishing his full sentence to ICE custody and then to NWDC, where he arrived on July 21 and on Monday tested positive for COVID again.

The news of the surge in COVID cases in one day comes on the heels of last month’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warning to GEO group, the corporation that owns and runs NWDC, for the misuse of pesticides used to disinfect surfaces. GEO is having people detained spray toxic chemicals in common areas without appropriate protection. People caged at the NWDC are being tasked with spraying carcinogenic chemicals that should not be breathed into the lungs in order to combat a respiratory virus that these pesticides have not slowed down. People detained report that no changes have been done, and are still made to use the pesticides in the same manner every hour. 

La Resistencia demands congressional action due to the Biden administration permitting the detaining of asylum seekers, allowing ICE to continue transferring people through the country, and exposing people detained to COVID-19. The demands of people detained include ending the detention of asylum seekers, stopping all transfers and collaboration between state prisons and ICE, immediate release of all vulnerable people in detention, release of all people in detention, and the shutdown of all detention facilities in the country. 

La Resistencia is a grassroots volunteer undocumented led group fighting alongside people detained at NWDC to end all detentions, deportations, and to shutdown NWDC

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