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President Biden sending a team to the US-Mexico border
02:17 - Source: CNN
Washington CNN  — 

While Covid-19 continues to spike across the country and in southern states with lower vaccination rates, Republicans have tried pinning blame for the rise in cases, hospitalizations and deaths on illegal immigration and President Joe Biden’s policies at the southern border.

During an August 4 press conference, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis accused Biden of having a “wide open southern border” which has led to the importation of the virus across the US.

“No elected official is doing more to enable the transmission of COVID in America than Joe Biden with his open borders policies,” DeSantis said in a fundraising letter the same day.

Other Republicans, like Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, have also blamed migration as “part of the problem” contributing to the coronavirus increase and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has criticized Biden, tying migration at the border to the pandemic.

Facts First: Public health experts dispute the notion that migrants entering the southern border are largely responsible for exploding Covid cases across a large swath of the country. Instead, experts point to the more transmissible Delta variant and relatively low vaccination rates as primary causes of this latest wave. It’s also worth noting that some of the Republicans blaming the surge on migrants have banned mask mandates and pushed back against policies requiring vaccines.

Spread of Covid

“To my knowledge there is no evidence that migrants are to blame for the spike in Florida or other southern states,” Aubree Gordon, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan, told CNN. “We’re having significant increases in transmission across many states likely due to the Delta variant.”

Regarding the surge, current US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy echoed concerns about the Delta variant, saying near the end of July that “The thing that’s making this possible is the fact that we are dealing with the most transmissible version of Covid-19 that we’ve seen to date.”

And according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the current situation is also due in part to the country’s vaccination rate.

“If we had the overwhelming proportion of the people vaccinated, we would not be having this conversation,” Fauci told PBS on July 27.

Many companies and organizations have begun mandating vaccines for their employees, and in some cases for their customers too. Some governors followed suit, requiring vaccines or weekly tests for state government employees.

But DeSantis, and a handful of other Republican governors including Greg Abbott of Texas, have refused to do so. Some have even gone so far as to ban mandates for vaccines or other measures that could help stop the spread, such as masks.

Ron Waldman, Professor of Global Health at George Washington University, told CNN, “It is clear that states that are not aggressively implementing public health interventions are suffering more than those that adopted policies that encourage and at times enforce those interventions, especially in regard to vaccination. We see this clearly in the rates of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.”

“It should be obvious that the greatest risk of acquiring COVID is from neighbors, not from ‘aliens’ pouring across the ‘wide-open southern” border,’ Waldman said, noting that Florida does not touch the southern border but it does share a border with Alabama, one of the least vaccinated states in the country.

Southern border

While migrants continue to arrive at the US-Mexico border in record numbers, it’s false to claim that the border is “open” as DeSantis did last week. The Biden administration is still using a Trump-era policy which allows for many migrants to be quickly expelled from the US.

The CDC announced on August 2 that it would extend the controversial health order – called Title 42 – invoked by the previous administration during the beginning of the pandemic, in March 2020.

Out of the migrants encountered at the Southern border by the US Customs and Border Protection from January to June, 64% were removed from the US under the health order.

The CBP told CNN that migrants taken into custody are required to wear face masks provided by the agency and that if “anyone exhibits signs of illness in CBP custody, they are referred to local health systems for appropriate testing, diagnosis, and treatment.”

CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez contributed to this report.