Coronavirus Outbreak Confirmed at ICE Detention Center in Aurora

David Zalubowski/AP Photo
This Saturday, April 15, 2017, photograph shows the entrance to the GEO Group’s immigrant detention facility in Aurora, Colo.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment confirmed a COVID-19 outbreak at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement processing center in Aurora Wednesday, including the facility in their weekly outbreak report. 

Though the data released Wednesday by CDPHE said that the facility’s outbreak was confirmed on May 30, the facility saw its first confirmed COVID-19 cases more than a week earlier.

Congressman Jason Crow, who represents Aurora in the U.S. House of Representatives, has had his office conduct weekly inspections of the facility since last July. According to the office’s weekly accountability reports, there were 11 confirmed COVID-19 cases among those detained at the facility as of May 28. At least five staff at the facility had tested positive for COVID-19 as of May 20.

Prior to the outbreak, Crow and his staff urged ICE officials to grant humanitarian parole to detainees at high risk for contracting a severe form of the disease. In a letter sent to the agency in April, Crow also asked that ICE stop transferring detainees to the facility. 

In the letter, Crow alleged that those transfers were occurring to meet a contract minimum that ICE has with the private prison company that runs the Aurora detention center, a Florida-based company called GEO group.

This contract minimum ensures that GEO group is paid for managing at least 525 prisoners. According to Crow’s letter, meeting these requirements brings in a constant flow of new, possibly infected, detainees into the facility.

“These detainees present a significant risk of exposure to the existing population, staff, and surrounding community at the Aurora Contract Detention Facility,” the letter said. "The movement and exposure of those brought in through enforcement and removal operations prior to their detention is unknown.”

According to Crow’s May 27 report, the facility’s detainee population had fallen to 493, though it is unclear if that is a result of ICE stopping the transfer of detainees into the facility. 

Calls to both the Aurora facility and GEO Group headquarters were not answered Wednesday. On Thursday morning, ICE Public Affairs Officer Alethea Smock sent CPR News a statement saying that the contract with GEO Group plays no role in determining the length of detention in the facility.

"ICE detains individuals solely to secure their presence for immigration proceedings and removal from the U.S. The agency’s detention resources are focused on those who present a threat to public safety, for whom detention is mandatory by law, or who may be a flight risk," the statement read. "ICE is committed to upholding an immigration detention system that prioritizes the health, safety, and welfare of all of those in its care and makes decisions to release individuals every day on a case-by-case basis. Contractual minimums have no bearing on the decisions on whether a detainee should remain in custody."

The Aurora ICE facility is one of 22 new outbreaks reported by CDPHE this week. Over the course of the pandemic, the state has identified 296 outbreaks, 64 of which have been contained. The state defines outbreaks as two or more cases occurring within a 14 day period related to the facility. 

Since COVID-19 appeared in Colorado, elder-care facilities like nursing homes have consistently had the most outbreaks, but that trend has become less pronounced as more Coloradans have returned to work and to other newly opened facilities.

This week both nursing homes and grocery stores led in outbreaks with four each. One childcare center, one office, two construction sites and a Chick-Fil-A also had outbreaks. The remaining six outbreaks occurred at warehouses, manufacturing plants and distribution centers.

Residential facilities like elder-care centers, prisons, group homes and rehab centers account for 804 deaths of people with COVID-19 or probable cases. At least 27 people in Colorado have now died with a case of COVID-19 that they contracted from an outbreak at their workplace. 

These are the places the state says there were outbreaks identified in the last week:

  • Outbreak confirmed: 05/27/20 Facility: Food King, a grocery store in Weld County. COVID-19 cases: 10 staff positive, 4 staff probable
  • Outbreak confirmed: 05/27/20 Facility: Village at Belmar, an assisted living facility in Jefferson County. COVID-19 cases: 2 residents and 3 staff positive
  • Outbreak confirmed: 05/28/20 Facility: Learn Thru Play Children’s Kiddieland, a childcare facility in Otero County. COVID-19 cases: 1 staff positive, 1 attendee positive
  • Outbreak confirmed: 05/28/20 Facility: Carniceria Leonela, a grocery store in El Paso County. COVID-19 cases: 4 staff positive, 4 staff probable
  • Outbreak confirmed: 05/28/20 Facility: King Soopers #19, a grocery store in Denver. COVID-19 cases: 3 staff positive
  • Outbreak confirmed: 05/28/20 Facility: Pollution Solutions, an office or workplace in Larimer County. COVID-19 cases: 4 staff positive
  • Outbreak confirmed: 05/28/20 Facility: Aspen Trail Construction Site, a construction site in El Paso County. COVID-19 cases: 2 staff positive, 5 staff probable
  • Outbreak confirmed: 05/28/20 Facility: ProHealth, a potato processing plant in Yuma County. COVID-19 cases: 21 staff positive
  • Outbreak confirmed: 05/29/20 Facility: University Park Health Care Center, a skilled nursing facility in Pueblo County. COVID-19 cases: 6 residents positive, 2 staff positive
  • Outbreak confirmed: 05/29/20 Facility: ABM Facility Services, a maintenance facility in Arapahoe County. COVID-19 cases: 10 staff positive
  • Outbreak confirmed: 05/29/20 Facility: Brush Meat Processors, a meat processing plant in Morgan County. COVID-19 cases: 4 staff positive
  • Outbreak confirmed: 05/29/20 Facility: The Standard at Fort Collins, a construction site in Larimer County. COVID-19 cases: 4 staff positive
  • Outbreak confirmed: 05/30/20 Facility: ThriveCare-Cody, an assisted living facility in Jefferson County. COVID-19 cases: 2 residents positive, 1 staff positive, 1 staff probable
  • Outbreak confirmed: 05/30/20 Facility: Aurora ICE Processing Center in Adams County. COVID-19 cases: 11 residents positive, state did not report staff positives, but at least 2 have tested positive
  • Outbreak confirmed: 06/01/20 Facility: Diaz Tile, an industrial facility in Montrose County. COVID-19 cases: 6 staff positive
  • Outbreak confirmed: 06/01/20 Facility: Downtown Durango Hotel Construction Site in La Plata County. COVID-19 cases: 5 staff positive
  • Outbreak confirmed: 06/01/20 Facility: Diaz Tile, an industrial facility in Montrose County. COVID-19 cases: 6 staff positive
  • Outbreak confirmed: 06/01/20 Facility: United States Postal Distribution Center in Denver. COVID-19 cases: 14 staff positive
  • Outbreak confirmed: 06/02/20 Facility: King Soopers, a grocery store in Adams County. COVID-19 cases: 4 staff positive
  • Outbreak confirmed: 06/02/20 Facility: Northglenn Heights Assisted Living/Memory Care in Adams County. COVID-19 cases: 4 residents positive, 4 staff positive, 1 staff probable
  • Outbreak confirmed: 06/02/20 Facility: Electronics Metal Finishing Corporation, a manufacturing facility in El Paso County. COVID-19 cases: 2 staff positive
  • Outbreak confirmed: 06/02/20 Facility: Chick-Fil-A, a fast food restaurant in Arapahoe County. COVID-19 cases: 3 staff positive

Editor's note: This story was updated June 4 with a statement from ICE.