WASHINGTON — Customs and Border Protection is not testing migrant children packed into overcrowded border stations for Covid-19, Biden administration officials said on Thursday, though more than 100 have tested positive after being transferred from those facilities.
"We are not performing testing inside Border Patrol facilities," an administration official told reporters on a press call.
The official said children are tested when they are transferred to sites run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency or the Department of Health and Human Services.
In a Carrizo Springs, Texas, HHS facility currently housing 766 children, 108 have tested positive for Covid-19. All came from Border Patrol stations and it is not known if they contracted or spread the virus there.
HHS said the children at Carrizo Springs who tested positive were isolated from other children. A spokesperson for BCFS, the nonprofit running the HHS facility, told NBC News the nonprofit believes the children came to its care with Covid-19 and does not know of a case of person-to-person spread within its facility.
Pictures from inside crowded Border Patrol facilities emerged this week, as the office of Rep. Henry Cuellar, D.-Texas, said 400 children were sleeping in single pods without separation or social distancing guidelines in place.
As of Wednesday, there were 4,962 children in Border Patrol custody, a near record high. Due to limited space in HHS care, where children are given a bed, clean clothes and eventually placed to live with a relative or other vetted sponsor, there is a backlog in Border Patrol facilities. As of Sunday, more than 3,300 children had been in Border Patrol custody past the 3-day legal limit.
The Biden administration has so far refused media tours to journalists inside border patrol facilities, citing Covid precautions as a concern. Biden officials' acknowledgment that children inside are not tested for Covid raises new questions about the reasoning for blocking journalists' access.
In order to alleviate overcrowding at border stations, the administration officials told reporters that in addition to the influx facilities it has opened in places like Carrizo Springs, it plans to expand Carrizo Springs and open another facility in Dallas for children who need medical attention, including those who test positive for Covid-19.
HHS is also planning on opening more shelter space for child migrants in San Antonio, San Diego and Pecos, Texas. Through the Department of Defense, HHS will also move forward with opening shelter sites in Fort Bliss, Texas and Joint Base Lackland in San Antonio, the officials said.