Medical volunteers at Matamoros migrant camp dealing with first COVID-19 case

1 month 2 days 15 hours ago Wednesday, July 01 2020 Jul 1, 2020 July 01, 2020 7:40 PM July 01, 2020 in News - Coronavirus Pandemic

Medical volunteers at the Matamoros migrant camp are dealing with their first confirmed case of COVID-19. The positive result was announced Tuesday by the Global Response Management clinic.

A woman from Mexico tested positive after she was repatriated from the United States, according to Dr. Gloria de Jesus Molina Gamboa, Tamaulipas Secretary of Health.

The migrant camp sheltering thousands managed to sidestep the crisis plaguing surrounding communities for months.

"We had the hospital and everything, gear, set up and ready to go since April, but this is really the first time we've had to see a positive case," Samuel Bishop, GRM Project Coordinator in Matamoros, said.

On one side of the camps is Brownsville, Texas which currently reports more than 900 COVID-19 cases. On the Mexican side, Matamoros has more than 1,200 confirmed cases of the virus. The camp at the northern entrance of Matamoros lies between these two cities.

Precautionary measures were implemented at the onset of the pandemic, but they weren't enough to keep the virus from gaining a foothold this week. One person tested positive, but others may soon follow.

"That person, including three additional family members without symptoms, were immediately moved to the designated isolation area outside of camp and PCR tested. On Monday, 6/29, PCR testing came back positive for the suspected patient and negative for all three family members," according to the press release from the clinic.

Two other people living together in the camp are also pending their results as of Wednesday.

Bishop credits the work of the government for helping to keep the camp virus-free for so long.

"They have put restrictions in place on who can stay in the camp, who can come and visit in the camp, trying to cut down on excess personnel, doing temperature screenings," Bishop said.

An area for quarantining is set up outside by the camp's entrance for migrants looking for residence at the campgrounds.

Inside, Bishop says the clinic has set up isolation areas within the camp for migrants suspected of having the virus. There's also a 20-bed field hospital to treat severe confirmed cases.

A ventilator is available, but there are challenges to using it. "Our preference in that case, is that we get that patient to a permanent hospital to the city, because there's a medicine side of keeping somebody on a ventilator that is particularly difficult to do in this kind of environment," Bishop said.

So far, 360 tests have been administered among migrants and staff at the camp.

The clinic is using antibody tests, also known as rapid tests. The more reliable PCR tests are provided by the government for those who test positive through a rapid test or who have certain symptoms, Bishop said.

Rapid tests can be helpful in determining who has developed antibodies to the virus after becoming infected. They can also be faulty, because antibodies can take a while to produce.

"The antibody tests are approved for emergency use in the U.S., but in Mexico they actually have the equivalent of full FDA authorization. So, they're seen as valid test results," Bishop explained.

Supplies and tests are purchased by the nonprofit organization, but they are in need of more donations as the possibility of more cases is now more likely.

The first positive case of the virus serves as harbinger of a wave of new cases, but it's also having a positive effect.

"So, I think that that had a lot of people with their guard down," Bishop said. "And now, we're seeing better compliance with mask use and social distancing measures and stuff."

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