Within the past year, nearly 900 immigrants housed in U.S. detention centers were sick with the mumps and the overwhelming majority of the cases were contracted within the facilities, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday.
From September 2018 to August 2019, there were 898 confirmed and probable mumps cases among adults across 57 facilities, four of which are run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the CDC said. Others are jails and privately operated facilities.
The illness hit centers in 19 states, and impacted an additional 33 staff members. Of the total number of cases, 44% were detected in Texas.
More than 80% of the immigrants who had the mumps were exposed to it while living inside the facilities. The high rate of infection is almost certainly a result of the government’s refusal to provide detainees with MMR vaccines, which the CDC says ward off most mumps cases.
Among Americans, the mumps is largely a disease of the past. Before vaccinations against the mumps became routine in the 1960s, it was common for the illness to be contracted during childhood, though vaccinations have cut down on cases by more than 99% across the country.
While mumps outbreaks can still occur among at colleges and other places where communities have prolonged close contact, vaccination coverage can limit the duration and spread.
Within detention centers, mumps aren’t the only problem: severe overcrowding, general squalor, a lack of beds and inadequate personal hygiene products have also been reported.
In June, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General released a report warning of “egregious violations of detention standards” found in New Jersey and California facilities housing ICE detainees, including “inadequate medical care.”
The report found that migrants were fed expired food (thus raising the risk of illness), received insufficient mental health care, and were fashioning nooses out of bedsheets.
The troubling conditions, the inspector general said, “raised concerns about the environment in which detainees are held.”
This week, DHS blocked House Oversight Committee staff from visiting detention centers after the committee said its own inspections found problems with treatment of detainees at the facilities.
In a letter to Acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan sent Thursday, committee Chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said the department’s actions were out of line with McAleenan’s July testimony during which he vowed to discuss “improving the standards that exist” and said he would continue welcoming lawmaker visits to the facilities.