Convention Center shelter nears capacity with 714 migrant children; 49 test positive for COVID

More than 700 migrant children were being housed this week at a temporary shelter at the Long Beach Convention Center, and 49 have tested positive for COVID-19, a government officials said.

Zhan Caplan, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said a total of 58 children were in isolation because some are being kept with siblings while they’re potentially infectious.

UCLA Health has established a full-size medical clinic at the site to care for the children, and they are tested every three days for COVID-19, officials said.

“All of the children are either asymptomatic or have very minor symptoms,” Caplan wrote in an email. “UCLA Health is providing excellent care.”

At total of 56 children have tested positive since the facility opened on April 22. Of those, 42 tested positive at the time of their arrival while 14 tested positive through surveillance, Caplan said.  

Federal authorities in March tapped the Long Beach Convention Center as one of several emergency shelter sites across the country set up by Health and Human Services to handle the increase of unaccompanied migrant children arriving at the U.S-Mexico border. Sites have also been set up at the San Diego Convention Center and Pomona Fairplex.

COVID-19 cases have been common at some of the facilities. Last month, more than 100 children tested positive at the San Diego Convention Center. Caplan said the San Diego facility currently has 30 kids who have tested positive.

Federal officials said 14 children have also tested positive at the Pomona Fairplex, and all are in isolation and receiving on-site medical care.

More than 200 children were being housed at the Pomona Fairplex site, which has capacity for up to 2,500.

“We have a team of infectious disease experts from the (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) on site who are working with program leads to implement CDC COVID-19 protocols as the site gears up and the census grows,” said Health and Human Services spokesperson Bonnie Preston.

She noted that most of the COVID cases at the location — and at other HHS intake centers — were children who arrived with the virus, testing positive when they left the custody of the Border Patrol.

They were then taken to intake centers in separate vehicles, she said. “Once here they remain separate from the other children,” she said.

The Pomona Fairplex site began welcoming migrant children Saturday.

The Long Beach facility began accepting children on April 22 and will house up to 1,000 kids—mostly girls under 18 and boys under 12—until Aug. 2.

As of Tuesday, more than 22,000 unaccompanied migrant children were in the care of Health and Human Services. The children, mostly from Central America, are being housed in shelters across the country as officials work to reunite them with family or sponsors in the United States.

Health and Human Services is leasing the Long Beach Convention Center until Aug. 2.

City officials have said support from the community has been overwhelming, with thousands of toy and book donations.

The shelter as of Tuesday has more than 9,000 donations of books and toys, with more being counted, Caplan said.

“We have an incredible amount of donations and they just keep coming in,” he said.

Donations are being accepted through Friday.

– City News Service contributed to this report

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Kelly Puente is an award-winning general assignment and special projects reporter at the Long Beach Post. She has worked as a journalist in Long Beach since 2006, covering everything from education and crime to courts and breaking news. Kelly previously worked at the Long Beach Press-Telegram and the Orange County Register before joining the Post in 2018. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in public policy and administration at Cal State Long Beach. Reach her at [email protected].