Tri-County advises staff vaccinations, surveillance after mumps outbreak at ICE facility

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AURORA | More than 350 Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency detainees are still being isolated after a handful of mumps cases were reported at the privately-owned detention center in Aurora. 

The Tri-County Health Department has proposed vaccinations for staff and detainees and proper reporting, among other recommendations, for the facility, owned and operated by GEO Group Inc.

“Provide a single dose of MMR vaccine to all staff, regardless of vaccination history or evidence of presumptive immunity, that work within the facility for whom live vaccines are not contraindicated,” Tri-County said in a letter to the detention center’s chief medical officer, Dr. John Christakis.

“With guidance from (the state) and (Tri-County), create a detailed plan to provide MMR vaccination to detainees and staff in their facility and ensure an ongoing vaccination program for new arrivals.”

GEO facility officials told media during a tour Monday staff vaccinations took place the previous Friday. 

Tri-County epidemoligist Bernadette Albanese said fighting the outbreak in a facility like GEO can be tricky because of the nature of the temporary population and that a person can host the disease for nearly a month before showing symptoms.

357 detainees are currently being isolated for potentially being exposed to either mumps or chickenpox, according to GEO. Six pods, out of the center’s 13, are in quarantine currently and are likely to stay that way until near the end of the month. 

ICE officials said the increased number of cases of mumps and chicken pox is because of an influx of detainees from the southern border — an annex of the facility was opened in January for the increase of detainees coming from the border.

“Each detainee receives a medical examination upon arrival at the facility to check for potential signs of illness, however ICE has no way of knowing what viruses a person may have been exposed to prior to entering the facility,” ICE spokeswoman Alethea Smock in a statement Feb. 20. “Mumps is highly contagious, easily contracted by nearby people and difficult to detect until symptoms appear. ICE and the medical professionals employed by GEO took the necessary steps to quickly isolate the exposed detainees, provide proper medical care and prevent further spread of the disease.”

ICE and GEO officials also pointed out on the media tour that if a detainee is ordered to be released and is in quarantine, the facility must release that person. Staff said those detainees are released with medication, if needed, face masks and proper educational materials.

One person with a confirmed case of mumps has been released, but officials could not provide numbers for other quarantined detainees that have been released from the detention center.

It’s unclear just how many cases of mumps and chickenpox have been detected at the north Aurora detention center, as multiple sources indicate GEO has not properly been reporting those cases. 

“Now that disease reporting to public health is in place, (the state) and (Tri-County) are working with the full cooperation of facility staff to improve reporting and communication among the entities,” a CDPHE spokeswoman told the Sentinel this week.

“TCHD and CDPHE have set the expectation that any new cases of mumps or other reportable conditions must be reported to (the state) and/or (Tri-County) within the required timeframe. The normal reporting requirement for mumps is four days, however because of the outbreak, TCHD has requested that the facility report new cases to CDPHE no later than 48 hours.”