Huge spike in COVID-19 deaths hinders hopes of reopening border to non-essential travel

Coronavirus

Juarez plans second consecutive weekend lockdown after recording 316 coronavirus fatalities in April

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Health authorities in Juarez, Mexico say this is not the time to reopen the border to non-essential travel, given that more than 300 of their residents have died of COVID-19 this month alone.

“The plain and simple answer is yes (we are opposed),” said Dr. Arturo Valenzuela, director of the Chihuahua state Health Department in Juarez.

He said COVID-19 infections and fatalities are sharply up since the Easter holiday, as are hospital occupancy rates. “Mobility, contagion rates, hospital space – everything points out we are on the increase,” he said. “Hospitals are again reconverting their spaces (to accommodate more patients) and private and public hospitals are filling up. It’s not just about available beds, it’s also about supplies and personnel.”

The U.S.-Mexico land border has been closed to non-essential travel since March 2020. El Paso merchants who depend on Mexican shoppers have seen sales plummet ever since.

Juarez on Monday reported 18 new fatalities – 316 more than it reported on April 1 – and 36 new infections. Across the border El Paso, Texas reported four new deaths and 92 new and delayed-report cases. That’s 104 more deaths than on April 1.

COVID-19 fatalities in Juarez, Mexico are up to levels not seen since last October. (graphic State of Chihuahua)

Juarez and Chihuahua were on lockdown Saturday and Sunday in an effort to reduce that mobility. Police in Juarez dispersed dozens of large gatherings at homes and forced merchants engaged in non-essential sales (except food or medicines) to close. Another lockdown is scheduled for next Saturday and Sunday.

Valenzuela said people’s mobility has been the main problem south of the border, as Juarez and Chihuahua residents decided to catch up on family gatherings and going out to businesses that until late March had been operating at limited capacity.

Most businesses were closed in Juarez, Mexico this weekend amid a spike in coronavirus-related fatalities. (photo Roberto Delgado/Special to Border Report)

The lack of vaccines for the general population may be another issue. Health workers from non-government hospitals have even taken to public spaces to say they haven’t received a COVID-19 vaccine and to demand inoculation.

El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego on Friday acknowledged that Mexico’s COVID-19 woes could have a bearing on El Paso. “It’s very rational that if Juarez isn’t taking care of its situation, it’s difficult for us to take care of ours and vice versa,” Samaniego said. “We’re great neighbors and we want to help each other out and we know we’re in the same boat.”

The county as of Monday had administered 622,325 vaccinations, with 38.9% of the population receiving both doses already and 61.2% receiving at least one.

Asked if it would be possible for El Paso to share vaccines with Juarez, the county judge said that could be discussed once El Paso County achieves so-called herd immunity. That goal might be achieved once 85% of the population has been vaccinated.

“I want the community to expedite (signing up for a vaccine), get vaccination going and then allow us to be a generous community once again to help others. But we can’t help each other until we get herd immunity,” he said.

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