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Deported Migrants Sent Through 'Sanitation Tunnels' In Mexico Over Coronavirus Fears

There’s growing concern in Mexico that migrants deported from the United States are bringing the coronavirus with them across the border. On Monday, 14 cases were confirmed at a migrant shelter in the Mexican border town of Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, where state officials say a migrant deported from Houston entered the shelter not knowing he was carrying the virus.

Now, authorities have are sending newly deported migrants through “sanitation tunnels” set up at the border in an attempt to stop the importation of the coronavirus from the U.S.

The plastic tunnels use misters to spray people inside with disinfectant. And they’ve popped up at hospitals, markets and plazas across Mexico as a way to disinfect people who might have come in contact with the virus. In Tamaulipas, the governor announced Sunday that  38 new sanitation tunnels were being installed around the state, including those in Nuevo Laredo.

But the country’s top health official, Hugo Lopez-Gatell, says they don’t work.

"If there wasn't a risk, we wouldn't have said anything," Lopez-Gatell said in the press conference on April 8. "But there is a risk.

He said the tunnels are not just a waste of money but can actually spread the virus and damage the skin, eyes and lungs of people who pass through them. Instead, he said people following basic recommendations for avoiding the spread of the virus, like social distancing, thoroughly washing hands and avoiding crowds.

But those measures can be  difficult for migrants to follow, and concerns about the spread of the coronavirus though deportations are mounting in Mexico and beyond.

Guatemala has temporarily suspended deportation flights from the U.S. after dozens of migrants arrived to the country testing positive for COVID-19. And U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was reporting nearly 300 confirmed cases of the virusin ICE detention as of Wednesday, despite low levels of testing.

On Monday, the U.S. government extended for another month the  health protocols it used to quickly deport people crossing the border outside legal ports of entry. The order will remain until May 20 at least.

→  Read The Latest News On The Coronavirus Disease 

Kendal Blust was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2018 to 2023.