Located just outside the small city of Lumpkin, Stewart has capacity for 1,900 detainees. It has detained people from more than 140 countries and nearly every continent. CoreCivic said it is encouraging social distancing and regular handwashing there.
“Efforts are underway to notify other employees or contractors who may have been in contact with the individual who tested positive,” the company said. “CoreCivic is working hard to protect our employees, those entrusted to our care, and our communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
CoreCivic operates the detention center in Lumpkin through agreements with ICE and Stewart County.
ICE had no immediate comment.
The CoreCivic employee who tested positive for COVID-19 does not live in Stewart, according to Stewart County Manager Mac Moye. Moye, who previously worked as a case manager in the immigration detention center in Lumpkin, said he briefed the County Commission about the case and a separate one that popped up elsewhere in Stewart.
“Having worked at Stewart Detention Center, I know that contingency planning is an important thing, so I want us to be prepared,” Moye said. “I can’t predict what the scenarios might spin to. But what if it gets out in the population and what happens at that point?”
Also on Tuesday, a coalition of civil and immigrant advocacy groups from Georgia sent the state’s congressional delegation a letter, requesting the immediate release of ICE detainees amid the pandemic.
“The threat of a COVID-19 outbreak in immigration detention centers is imminent,” the letter says. “Immigration detention centers are already a hotbed for the transfer of various infectious diseases.”
Azadeh Shahshahani is the legal and advocacy director for one of the many groups behind the letter, Project South, an immigrant advocacy organization. She reacted to the CoreCivic employee’s positive COVID-19 test result Tuesday, saying: “Given this disturbing revelation, it is now even more urgent for ICE to immediately release detained immigrants from Stewart and shut this place down.”
She highlighted that four Stewart detainees have died from other causes since 2017, adding the facility is "certainly not equipped to deal with a deadly pandemic. The lives of thousands of detained immigrants as well as the prison workers are now on the line."