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3 workers at facilities housing migrant kids in U.S. custody test positive for coronavirus

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Three staff members at facilities that care for unaccompanied migrant children in U.S. government custody, as well as one foster parent, have now tested positive for the coronavirus, federal officials said Monday.

The three staff members work at two different facilities in New York that house migrant children in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, or ORR, an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services that is currently responsible for about 3,600 unaccompanied minors. The foster parent is in Washington state, one of the epicenters of the pandemic in the U.S.

ORR's medical team and the affected facilities are coordinating with local public health authorities on "appropriate quarantine measures" stemming from the new cases, agency officials said in a statement to CBS News. The agency said it is also notifying anyone that may have been exposed to the individuals.

A dozen migrant children in U.S. custody have been tested for the virus, ORR officials said Monday. Five results came back negative and the rest are pending.

Children housed in the two New York facilities where staffers tested positive for COVID-19 will not be released to sponsors, who are typically family members in the U.S., until quarantines at the locations are lifted. But ORR officials said unifying minors with a "suitable sponsor" is consistent with guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The Trump administration also announced on Monday it had stopped placing migrant children in New York because of the public health crisis. The state now has the highest number of coronavirus-related deaths in the country. ORR had stopped placing children in its custody at facilities in California and Washington earlier this month.

To avoid air travel during the global pandemic, the refugee agency said it is also prioritizing placing migrant children in local facilities after receiving them from Department of Homeland Security officials, who are generally the first to apprehend unaccompanied minors near the southern border. 

Last week, ORR leadership issued guidance requiring that migrant children in its custody undergo mandatory temperature checks twice day, agency officials said. If a child has a temperature higher than 100 degrees, the shelters have to notify the government. 

The guidance is in addition to other protocols the agency implemented because of the pandemic. Children are screened for their travel history before being placed in a facility. If they are deemed at risk of contracting the virus but show no symptoms, they are quarantined and monitored for two weeks. Any minor with respiratory disease symptoms will be tested with the consultation of local health officials.

In California and New York, the agency has established "tele-health" services so children do not have to leave their respective facilities to receive medical care.

Migrant minors in ORR custody crossed the southern border without parents or guardians, or in certain circumstances, were separated from them. In 2018, the agency struggled to house thousands of children who the Trump administration separated from their parents as part of the "zero tolerance" border crackdown. 

Under U.S. law, the Department of Homeland Security is generally required to transfer unaccompanied migrant children in its custody to ORR within 72 hours. The children stay in ORR custody until they are released to sponsors. 

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