After being converted to a shelter for migrant children last month, the Long Beach Convention Center is holding 729 girls and boys amid an influx of unaccompanied minors at the U.S. southern border, officials said Thursday.
The temporary shelter can house up to 1,000 children, meaning it’s already at more than 70% capacity. And 55 of the children — about 7.5% of those in the facility — have tested positive for COVID-19, according to Zhan Caplan, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Those who are sick are in isolation and receiving care from UCLA Health, Caplan said.
Local and federal officials toured the facility Thursday, including Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán, who represents the South Los Angeles area and sits on the House Committee on Homeland Security.
Of those, only one is said to be showing active symptoms, Barragán said.
“My understanding is that 75% of those COVID positives tested positive upon arrival,” she said. “They come in through a bus. They’re immediately tested before being put into the population here.”
Those who do test positive are immediately put in isolation, she added.
Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia said medical experts are not classifying the cases “as any type of outbreak.”
Meanwhile, federal authorities are beginning the process of reuniting the youth with their families, Caplan said.
By Thursday afternoon 20 reunifications had been completed, and another 40 were scheduled across the next few days. Officials hoped to carry out 100 by next week, Caplan said.
Federal officials aim to get every child placed into the care of their family or sponsor within about seven to 10 days, but some cases may take longer, Garcia said when the facility first opened.
The convention center was converted after the Long Beach City Council unanimously approved a plan last month to provide shelter, food and recreational activities to children as other holding centers on the southern border filled up.
Long Beach is more than 100 miles from Mexico, but it’s not the only space in the Los Angeles area being used to house young migrants amid the influx of unaccompanied minors. The Pomona Fairplex also began accepting children Saturday and has enough space to hold up to 2,500.
In Long Beach, the convention center is mostly taking in girls under 18 years old as well as boys under 12 — including siblings.
They’re provided with clothing, toiletries, three meals a day and snacks. They spend three to four hours in a classroom every day while also being given access to outdoor space, large screen TVs for video games, board games, books and other supplies, federal authorities say.
The setup inside the convention halls includes hundreds of cots as well as some plush seating and outdoor furniture for relaxing and socializing.
The city of Long Beach has established an online portal providing details on how community members can make tax-deductible monetary donations to help the children. It also lets organizations sign up to provide complimentary services at the temporary shelter, like health care, legal services, family reunification, education, meal services and language translation.