Modeling COVID-19 and Its Impacts on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Detention Facilities, 2020


U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities house thousands of undocumented immigrants in environments discordant with the public health recommendations to reduce the transmission of 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Using ICE detainee population data obtained from the ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) website as of March 2, 2020, we implemented a simple stochastic susceptible-exposed-infected-recovered model to estimate the rate of COVID-19 transmission within 111 ICE detention facilities and then examined impacts on regional hospital intensive care unit (ICU) capacity. Models considered three scenarios of transmission (optimistic, moderate, pessimistic) over 30-, 60-, and 90-day time horizons across a range of facility sizes. We found that 72% of individuals are expected to be infected by day 90 under the optimistic scenario ($R_0 = 2.5$), while nearly 100% of individuals are expected to be infected by day 90 under a more pessimistic ($R_0 = 7$) scenario. Although asynchronous outbreaks are more likely, day 90 estimates provide an approximation of total positive cases after all ICE facility outbreaks. We determined that, in the most optimistic scenario, coronavirus outbreaks among a minimum of 65 ICE facilities (59%) would overwhelm ICU beds within a 10-mile radius and outbreaks among a minimum of 8 ICE facilities (7%) would overwhelm local ICU beds within a 50-mile radius over a 90-day period, provided every ICU bed was made available for sick detainees. As policymakers seek to rapidly implement interventions that ensure the continued availability of life-saving medical resources across the USA, they may be overlooking the pressing need to slow the spread of COVID-19 infection in ICEtextquoterights detention facilities. Preventing the rapid spread necessitates intervention measures such as granting ICE detainees widespread release from an unsafe environment by returning them to the community.

Journal of Urban Health
Dan Coombs
Dan Coombs
Professor, UBC