Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials said its agency, including Border Patrol agents, is following all the necessary steps to combat the coronavirus outbreak in a conference call with reporters Friday.
CBP expressed confidence that the agency has the necessary resources to deal with potential contact of the novel COVID-19 virus. Namely, officials remarked that it has ample personal protective equipment, or PPE, for the entire U.S.-Mexico border, keeping Border Patrol agents more safe as they continue enforcing immigration laws.
“We’ve done PPE inventory of the entire border. We are good,” said a senior CBP official. Agency staffers wished not to be named, citing the high number of employees involved in the call.
“We have sufficient PPE to deal with this. I think the important message here for the Border Patrol, in particular, and probably all of CBP, is that we deal with contagious diseases and the potential for our employees to be exposed all the time,” the official continued.
PPE incompases a range of equipment that can protect agents from outside contagions, including gloves, face masks, N95 respirators and even surgical gowns.
The statements came as the coronavirus pandemic is worsening within U.S. borders. President Donald Trump is expected to officially declare a state of emergency Friday, allowing the federal government to tap tens of billions to fight the pandemic.
However, CBP officials noted that disease prevention has always been part and parcel of immigration enforcement. Border Patrol agents patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border, and CBP officials working in major U.S. airports, are in contact with individuals from around the world on a constant basis. (RELATED: Here Are All The Major Places And Events Closed Due To Coronavirus Pandemic)
“We are constantly prepared and trained to deal with potentially contagious diseases. We’re in lockstep with the national Border Patrol union on messaging and actions that are being taken out on the field,” the CBP official explained.
“We’re taking an overabundance of caution for any employees who may have been exposed, and offering them certain options for leave or working,” the official added.
However, it’s not clear how many agents have been tested, or even infected, with COVID-19. While officials on Friday said the agency does track employees who might have been exposed to the virus, they were not “prepared” to share that information at this time.
Outbreak of the coronavirus comes as border crossings are at months-long lows. CBP reported a total 30,068 migrants along the southern border in February. While this number marked just a short uptick from the 29,206 apprehended in January, it is a far cry from the border crisis seen in mid-2019, when apprehensions peaked in May at more than 144,000.
Trump credited a “very strong border policy” for the low amount of coronavirus deaths, tweeting Friday that the number would be much higher had the border been more porous.
“To this point, and because we have had a very strong border policy, we have had 40 deaths related to CoronaVirus. If we had weak or open borders, that number would be many times higher!” he said.
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