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Emails Show North Carolina Officials Were Helpless in the Face of Meatpacking COVID-19 Spread

Tyson Foods and other companies switched to private coronavirus testing and tracking, blocking data from public health officials

Max Siegelbaum

Jun 17, 2020

This summary was featured in Documented’s Early Arrival newsletter. You can subscribe to receive it in your inbox three times per week here.

County health officials in North Carolina watched in horror as COVID-19 cases continued to grow in the Tyson Foods chicken plant in the center of town. Workers — many of whom are immigrants and refugees — had been getting sick, but when Tyson hired a private company to take over testing, that information was no longer routed to county authorities. The move left health officials increasingly agitated. “Our fear and alarm is the fact that close contacts and positive cases are walking around, potentially shedding the virus and infecting others,” Rachel Willard, the county health director in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, wrote to state officials on May 14. ProPublica obtained thousands of emails like this detailing private corporations’ fight against state governments over the COVID-19 threat. ProPublica

In other national immigration news…

Detention Facility Shuts Down Calls to Advocates from Detainees

Detainees inside the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego can no longer call a group of activists who were helping them with money for food and phone calls. CoreCivic, the private prison company that runs the facility, blocked calls to phone numbers related to the Otay Mesa Detention Resistance, an organization that has helped expose conditions in the facility while it suffered the country’s biggest COVID-19 outbreak among immigrant detainees. “We took this action at the direction of our government partner,” said Amanda Gilchrist, a spokesperson for CoreCivic, referring to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. She directed further inquiry to ICE. ICE said it blocked the numbers over “safety concerns.” San Diego Union-Tribune

COVID-19 Outbreak Explodes in Arizona

On June 11, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced there were 22 detainees who tested positive for COVID-19 at the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona. Four days later, the agency announced it had 123 confirmed cases, a 460 percent jump. The facility is operated by the private prison company CoreCivic. “ICE health care workers at the Eloy Detention Center last week tested several detainees as part of continuing efforts to test those who are asymptomatic and did not show symptoms of COVID-19. As a result of these increased efforts, more cases have been identified,” ICE spokesperson Yasmeen Pitts O’Keefe on Monday. “Additionally, the Eloy Detention Center has also restricted intake for all new admissions to the facility to further protect those in custody.” Arizona Mirror

Homeland Security Inspector General Releases Report on CBP’s 2019 Migrant Surge Response

Fiscal year 2019 saw a surge in migrants arriving at the Southwest border, resulting in 851,508 Border Patrol apprehensions. Last week, the Department of Homeland Security published a report investigating Customs and Border Patrol’s response to the surge. The office found several Border Patrol stations “exceeded their maximum capacity.” “Although the Border Patrol established temporary holding facilities to alleviate overcrowding, it struggled to limit detention to the 72 hours generally permitted,” the report read. “Overcrowding made it difficult for the Border Patrol to manage contagious illnesses,” the report continued and “in some locations,” did not offer children access to telephone calls or “safeguard detainee property.” Read the report.

Max Siegelbaum

Co-executive Director of Documented




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