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Migrants must pass COVID test to stay at respite center

5 months 3 weeks 3 days ago Thursday, April 01 2021 Apr 1, 2021 April 01, 2021 2:19 PM April 01, 2021 in News - Local

With 15,000 COVID-19 tests provided by the state, the city of McAllen is making sure the population at the McAllen Respite Center doesn’t get sick.

After passing from federal custody and before entering non-profit care, migrants are going through erected tents near the McAllen bus station to receive a COVID-19 test. The test is possibly their first one since crossing the border.

With as much as 700 migrants being released per day, the numbers are causing a strain according to McAllen Mayor Jim Darling. 

"We were surprised the first day that I got the call that said, ‘hey, they're down here.’” Darling recalled. “We found out they weren't tested and so we were scrambling for tests. And we called the governor's office, and boom, we had 15,000 tests."

A large amount of migrants stay at the respite center - a former night club repurposed into an immigrant shelter - in downtown McAllen. People there stay for as long as it takes to get a bus and travel after being released by the government on their own recognizance.

The center is run by Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley where Sister Norma Pimentel serves as its executive director. 

"Because we test everyone that enters inside, we are allowing people to go ahead, as long as we keep numbers reasonable,” Pimentel said. “There's no social distancing as you saw when you went in."

People who test positive for COVID are housed in a separate area to be quarantined for 10 days.

Sister Pimentel said the COVID positivity rate has been around one to four percent, and all those cases are being quarantined. 

Mayor Darling added that the city is seeking reimbursement from the federal government for the $450,000 the city has been spending on transportation for the migrants. 

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