Even though officials at the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility were able to contain an initial outbreak of COVID-19 back in April and there have been no new cases since, the New York American Civil Liberties Union apparently filed a lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement on behalf of inmates at the facility.
The lawsuit claimed vulnerable detainees were not given proper protection and the terms of a settlement reached this week, the NYACLU told WXXI, will ensure those protections are in place if there is another outbreak at the facility.
In April, there were 49 detainees who tested positive, all housed in two pods segregated from the rest of the facility's population, and most were asymptomatic. All recovered without the virus spreading out of those two pods.
A source at the facility at the time said because of the closed nature of a detention facility, all detainees are considered vulnerable, not just older detainees. As a result, staff has taken several measures to contain the spread of the virus, a source told The Batavian in April.
According to the source, at the start of the novel coronavirus outbreak, the director of the facility, Thomas Feeley, ordered regular, thorough cleaning, including wiping down door handles with bleach every hour.
"Every time you turn around," the source said, "you smell bleach."
There is medical staff on duty inside the facility 24/7 and posters have been placed in the facility to inform detainees about COVID-19 and how to protect themselves, the source said in April.
The facility can hold 650 detainees. Today, a spokesman for ICE said the facility has maintained about a 300-person detainee count since the outbreak to help ensure social distancing is maintained.
ICE issued the following statement about the settlement:
“The facility’s response to the public health crisis has been exemplary. There are currently no active cases of COVID-19 at the facility. The men and women employed at BFDF, including the dedicated medical professionals with ICE Health Service Corps (IHSC), are the best in their field and have taken extraordinary precautions to keep both our detainees and staff safe,” said ICE ERO Buffalo Field Office Director Thomas Feeley. “The settlement reached has affirmed the value of the proactive measures previously undertaken, which has protected both staff and detainees.”
There have been news reports of a "surge" of COVID cases at ICE facilities but there have been no new cases at the facility in Batavia since April and the ICE COVID-19 information page reports fewer than 50 detainees nationally have tested positive, with the largest count, 15, at a facility in Lousiana.