EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Border travel restrictions are choking Downtown merchants, but officials on both sides are in favor of keeping them in place due to a major spike in COVID-19 patients.
“We’re definitely recommending (extending) travel restrictions further than October 21. […] It’s going to help both communities in that we’re going to have better control of the pandemic,” El Paso City-County Health Authority Dr. Hector Ocaranza said on Friday.
The Mexican Foreign Ministry late on Friday tweeted it will ask the Trump administration to extend the restrictions through November 21.
“After reviewing the spread of COVID-19 on both countries and the fact that many of our states are back on orange (threat level), Mexico suggested to the United States extending non-essential land travel restrictions for one more month,” the agency said.
The ministry said seven states in Mexico have reverted to the orange threat level, rolling back the economic reopening and limiting public activity due to major increases in COVID-19 cases.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) implemented non-essential border travel restrictions last March to keep international travelers from carrying the virus from one country to another. The restrictions have been extended month-to-month and are set to expire next week.
El Paso merchants closest to the ports of entry from Mexico have told Border Report they’ve lost between 70% and 90% of their sales since CBP began to turn back Mexican shoppers trying to come in with visas.
The restrictions apply to individuals; commercial trucks carrying merchandise across the border have been unhindered.
Ocaranza noted that it’s not just El Paso that’s been seeing a record number of infections. The city and county reported 1,555 new cases between Thursday and Friday.
Juarez on Thursday reported its largest one-day total since the pandemic began, with 402 cases and has recorded 43 coronavirus-related deaths in the past two days.
Chihuahua Gov. Javier Corral said the entire state, not just Juarez, would again be restricting business and public activity beginning on Monday.
“People’s health comes first. I know we will affect the economy but we cannot continue with the current spread (of COVID-19) because we will exceed our hospital capacity,” Corral said in a teleconference on YouTube.
Expecting “an increase in deaths” to follow rising infection rate
Back in El Paso, health officials continue urging residents to practice social distancing, frequent handwashing and wearing masks while in the company of others.
They also warned that the continuous and alarming rise in new infections will soon translate in more fatalities.
“We’re expecting an increase in deaths. That is a lagging indicator (because) it takes time for our personnel to analyze data that is available,” including death certificates and other information provided by attending physicians, Ocaranza said. “We are expecting we are going to be seeing an increase in the fatalities, we will report on a timely manner as we get confirmation.”
Health officials blame the major spike of the past few days on “COVID-19 fatigue” – people being fed up with staying home and not being able to spend time with friends and extended family members, and not always wearing masks.
“The contagion is out of control because we see record-breaking numbers, more people testing positive every time, more hospitalizations,” Ocaranza said in a Friday teleconference on Zoom. “Everyone is tired of the quarantine, tired of following the (prevention) recommendations.”
El Paso Public Health Director Angela Mora qualified the “out of control” statement, emphasizing that the disease doesn’t spread on its own.
“It’s not necessarily that the pandemic is out of control. We are out of control by letting our guard down. We’re not observing (preventive) measures like at the beginning of the pandemic,” she said.
Mora added that border residents, indeed, are tired of hearing over and over that the must wash their hands, practice social distance and wear masks if in the company of others.
“But that is what we have to do to get cases back under control. We have to realize the pandemic is out of control because we are out of control in terms of not observing prevention,” she said.