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Thirteen months after COVID-19 claimed its first victim in Colorado, a majority of those detained at the Aurora Contract Detention Facility have received a vaccine against the virus.
The Tri-County Health Department hosted a vaccination clinic at the facility on April 8, operated by the private prison company GEO Group under a contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Both staff and inmates were able to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires a single dose.
“Our clients have been held in a pressure cooker, the stress of their cases and incarceration compounded by fears for their health,” said Laura Lunn, an attorney who works with ICE inmates through the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network. Social distancing was difficult in the facility. The inmates sleep with other roommates in narrow-minded cells; Around 20 percent are in a large secondary building in the style of a grammar school with bunk beds.
Partly because of a fear of spreading the virus. The number of ICE prisoners has decreased significantly at the facility with a maximum capacity of over 1,500. In March 2020, 607 ICE prisoners were housed in the facility. Today the daily population is usually just over 200.
As of April 2, there were 228 ICE prisoners in the Aurora facility. 79 U.S. Marshal inmates housed in the Aurora Contract Detention Facility were also eligible for the vaccine. On April 8, 185 prisoners received it – over 60 percent of the current population. Some detainees had already been vaccinated in whole or in part.
“Overall, the number of her new admissions remains low,” says Bernadette Albanese, medical epidemiologist with the Tri-County Health Department. “Some of their inmates are from other facilities in Utah or Wyoming, and some of them may have received an initial dose at the previous facility. The Tri-County Health Department will continue to work with GEO staff to coordinate vaccination for the second doses of the detainees as soon as they are eligible. “
50 employees of the facility also received vaccines during the clinic. Some employees had been vaccinated at previous Tri-County Health Department clinics. The GEO Group does not require its employees to be vaccinated to get to work.
While the vaccine alleviates fears of COVID, it “does not solve the problems associated with the detention of civilian immigrants,” Lunn emphasizes. “The Aurora ICE prisoners are a mix of undocumented immigrants with and without charges or convictions, lawful residents with criminal convictions, and asylum seekers.”
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, various dormitories in the ICE facility had dealt with outbreaks of infectious diseases such as mumps and chickenpox. In the fall of 2020, it was the site of a widespread COVID outbreak among both ICE and US Marshal inmates. While a total of 185 ICE inmates at the facility have tested positive for COVID since the pandemic began, none have tested positive in recent weeks and there have been no deaths, according to the ICE website. And although 34 detainees from U.S. marshals tested positive over the course of the pandemic, none have tested positive recently.
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh works for Westword where he covers a range of topics including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves talking about New York sports.