San Antonio officials were forced to hold a press conference on June 11 to dispel false reports from right-wing figures and conspiracy theory websites that migrants from Congo with Ebola had been sent to the Texas city. San Antonio has seen an influx of Congolese immigrants seeking asylum in recent weeks, and officials did put out a call for French speakers to help translate at migrant centers, but officials say the migrants are not sick.
“This is a little bit much ado about nothing,” Colleen Bridger, interim assistant city manager and director of the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, told reporters at the press conference. “Yes we have had some migrants from the Democratic Republic of Congo, they have come here after any many months traveling through South America, Central America and Mexico on their way to our border. Any rumors that they are bringing Ebola or that they have risk of Ebola are patently false. These individuals have been screened by the federal government before being released into the United States.”
In a statement to BuzzFeed News, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said, “There have been no encounters of Ebola along the southwest border.”
Lara Anton, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of State Health Services, told The Associated Press, “”We do not have any suspected or confirmed cases of Ebola right now in Texas.” The U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention is not aware of any cases nationwide, a spokesperson told the AP.
The City of Laredo also issued a statement debunking reports that migrants with Ebola had been brought there.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott tweeted a link to a story debunking the Ebola outbreak rumors and wrote, “In addition to border security, my office is working on Health Security. The Dept. of State Health Services is monitoring immigration sites to protect against infectious disease. In the meantime, Congress must secure the border & prevent a health threat.”
Here’s what you need to know about the false rumors about Ebola-stricken migrants from Congo being brought to San Antonio:
City Officials Say There’s ‘No Way Possible That These Individuals Are Bringing Ebola Into Our Country’
At a press conference on June 11, San Antonio officials debunked the reports that there were Congolese migrants with Ebola who had been brought to the city. Bridger said that was not possible because the incubation period for the virus is 21 days. The migrants traveling from Central Africa would have been in South and Central America for months before making it to Mexico and the U.S. border to seek asylum.
“The incubation period for Ebola is 21 days. So what that means is, somebody who is exposed to a virus, in this case Ebola, would develop symptoms of that disease within 21 days after that exposure,” Bridger said. “So if you do the math and think of the fact that they left their country many, many months ago, there’s no way possible that these individuals are bringing Ebola into our country. So I just wanted to clarify that information for folks.”
She added that the migrants are often screened at different borders and then go through health screening by the U.S. Border Patrol.
“Let’s walk through the process that the asylum seekers are going through. Most of them are flying through multiple airports in Africa, typically to Cuba, and then they will fly to either South America or Central America, where every time they go through a different airport, because they are coming through the Democratic Republic of Congo, they are going through health screenings,” Bridger said. “So these individuals have probably gone through three or four health screenings before they even land in South America or Central America and every time they go through a border checkpoint they are also screened, because people know they are coming from Africa. When they get to the border with the United States, they are again screened by our federal government.”
Bridger said she spoke to a CDC employee who was deployed to the border and has been conducting screenings. “They have gone through more health screenings in the last six months than most of us will probably go through in our lifetime,” she said. “But regardless of all of that is the fact that it’s a 21-day incubation period. So it’s really not possible that if they were exposed to Ebola in the DRC, that now six months later they could develop symptoms and infect us. That’s another important nuance about Ebola, you are not contagious until you are symptomatic.”
Bridger said the government screens for other communicable diseases. “What we find is that especially the migrants that are coming from Central America have higher childhood vaccination rates than many places throughout the United States. So we are not seeing those vaccine-preventable illnesses in the migrant population. We are seeing what I characterize as stress-related illness, so we’re having some colds and some upper respiratory infections and that’s to be expected given the stress that they have gone through on their way here,” Bridger said. “If they do clear through the federal government health screening process and they get here and they don’t feel well, we have a medical team at the Migrant Resource Center that is able to assess them, provide some basic medical services and refer to the local urgent care center or the local hospitals as appropriate.”
She said the numbers of migrants who receive health screenings or request to see the medical team in San Antonio is less than 10 percent and about 1 percent have to go to the hospital or urgent care center.
Bridger told reporters, “Unfounded rumors like this can cause a lot of devastating effects for volunteers who are working on this response whose hearts are just as big as we can imagine. It can also fuel some anti-immigrant sentiments throughout the community that, as a community of immigrants, do not need to have here in San Antonio.”
San Antonio Put Out a Call for French Speakers, Saying There Were About 50 Congolese Migrants Already in the City & 350 Being Brought There
The city of San Antonio has seen an influx of Congolese migrants being brought to facilities there in recent weeks. And officials put out a call for help, but not because of a fear of Ebola, but because of a shortage of French speakers to help translate for those who came from the Congo.
The City of San Antonio Department of Human Services put out a call on June 5 asking for French-speaking volunteers to help at the emergency shelter set up there for immigrant families released to San Antonio by Homeland Security, ICE and Customs and Border Protection. The Migrant Resource Center is a joint effort of several city charities and organizations, including the San Antonio Food Bank, Interfaith Welcoming Coalition, Catholic Charities, Travis Park Church, Goodwill Industries of San Antonio and Refugees and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES).
San Antonio officials said about 50 Congolese migrants were already at the facility and about 350 more were expected.
“To ensure the continued safety and exemplary support to the families and children at the MRC, (Department of Human Services) is seeking volunteers who are able to converse in French and assist our guests with answering their questions, assist with intake of the migrants’ information (e.g. name, country of origin, final destination), helping with making phone calls, and most importantly, making our guests feel welcome,” the city agency said.
The False Reports About Congolese Migrants With Ebola Being Brought to San Antonio Began Spreading in Early June, Led by ‘We Build the Wall’ Founder Brian Kolfage
False reports about Congolese migrants with Ebola being brought to San Antonio have been spreading in right-wing circles on social media since early June. Brian Kolfage, the founder of the “We Build the Wall” organization efforting to construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border using money raised on GoFundMe, is among those who first pushed the debunked rumors.
He tweeted on June 4, “@WeBuildtheWall was just informed from a second highly trusted source that of 150 Africans that have recently arrived here at least 10 tested positive for #Ebola. Think what you want, but these are people who know the facts because they work along side it.”
Kolfage’s group’s Facebook page, with more than 200,000 likes, posted on June 9, “Hundreds of Illegal Aliens From Ebola-Stricken Congo Dumped in the Streets of San Antonio…what open borders activists insist is inhumane to do to illegal immigrants (locking them out) is actually inhumane to do to American citizens by exposing them to this horrible infectious disease. Pair the possibility of an Ebola break out with the lack of healthcare coverage, or insufficient coverage via forced Obamacare, and one crisis becomes two.”
Sites like WorldNewsDaily, Gateway Pundit and Alex Jones’ InfoWars, known for spreading conspiracy theories and false and misleading stories, picked up on the rumors with headlines like, “Hundreds Of Migrants Flee Ebola-Stricken Congo For San Antonio, Texas.”
On Twitter, former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke, tweeted a link to a report claiming, San Antonio was “Under Siege by Ebola Refugees.” Former TV host turned right-wing Twitter personality Chuck Woolery shared a link to a website called Blunt Force Truth, with the headline, “Hundreds of Illegal Aliens From Ebola-Stricken Congo Dumped in the Streets of San Antonio.”
Other right-wing sites, including Twitchy and Fox News host Sean Hannity’s Hannity.com picked up on the rumors without saying outright that there were migrants with Ebola in San Antonio. Twitchy headlined its article, “No big deal, just hundreds of refugees from Congo fleeing Ebola overwhelming San Antonio,” while Hannity.com wrote, “EMERGENCY IN TEXAS: ‘350 Migrants’ from CONGO Arrive in San Antonio, French Speakers Needed.”
Google, Twitter and YouTube search results for “San Antonio and Congo” and “San Antonio and Ebola” presented the fake news stories at the top of the page, until city officials held a press conference to get the real information out to the public, pushing down the incorrect reports.
Colleen Bridger said she held the press conference to “get out in front of just a few stories by just a few people about this Ebola false rumor.” When asked why the rumors spread, she said, “Oh, I have no idea. But I can tell you they aren’t true though.”
Bridger said, “We have had a few calls so we wanted to get out in front of this.” The calls were from people, “concerned with some national media coverage of the situation that made them afraid that people coming from the Democratic Republic of Congo may pose a health risk.”
An InfoWars ‘Reporter’ Was Removed From a San Antonio Migrant Center After a ‘Kerfuffle’ With Workers There
The situation in San Antonio was escalated when a “reporter” from InfoWars entered a facility where migrants are being held to try to talk to people about the fake Ebola outbreak right-wingers were spreading on social media. Officials said the reporter did not have permission to be in the facility and began filming in violation of the facility’s rules.
The reporter was kicked out of the facility after a “kerfuffle” with staff, San Antonio official said at Tuesday’s press conference. InfoWars quickly jumped on the incident to claim that the “reporter” was removed from the facility because the government had something to hide.
The Migrant Resource Center’s rules clearly state that no photos or videos are allowed to be taken at the MRC to “respect our guests.”