EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – On Monday morning, El Paso city and county officials lauded vaccination efforts and spoke in hopeful terms about reaching herd immunity.

Across the border a few hours later, Juarez announced a total shutdown of non-essential activities over the next two weekends due to a spike in COVID-19 cases and death and rising hospitalization rates.

All non-essential businesses were to shut down at midnight Friday and reopen Monday at 6 a.m. The lockdown will again be effective on midnight April 30 through the morning of May 3.

Chihuahua state Health Secretary Eduardo Fernandez said an immediate shutdown is necessary to keep the pandemic from reaching October levels, when hospitals became so overcrowded that COVID-19 hallways had to be fashioned into new wards for the emergency care of patients and dozens were dying daily.

“What is affecting more than anything else is mobility. It’s at the highest level we’ve ever seen. It’s higher than in December, which is when more people are usually out and about,” he said in a Friday teleconference. “How do we explain it? We’ve lost fear of the disease. We (lowered our guard) because vaccines are here. We went on Easter break. Political parties began campaigning. We’re moving more, taking less precautions and we’re getting infected.”

On Saturday and Sunday, all non-essential businesses are to remain closed. That includes all stores in shopping centers and malls, all dine-in service at restaurants and all bars.

Chihuahua Health Secretary Eduardo Fernandez announces a shut down of non-essential activity in Juarez and the rest of Chihuahua due to a spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. (photo from Facebook Live)

Only grocery stores, convenience stores, bakeries and meat shops may continue to operate. Department stores are to be closed.

“Shopping centers attract a lot of people and have the most potential for contagion. Restaurants will operate only on takeout or delivery and all common areas in hotels will close,” Fernandez said.

The Mexican health official acknowledged the move was sudden, but he said the Chihuahua Health Council was left little choice.

“What is more troubling is we’re seeing younger people hospitalized. Before we saw mostly the elderly. Now we’re seeing people 45 to 60 years old in hospitals,” he said. “What does that mean? That in a very short time our hospitals will be full like they were in October. Nobody wants that.”

Juarez on Friday reported 23 new COVID-19 deaths, compared to only one in El Paso County across the border. Juarez has not tallied 3,062 coronavirus deaths to El Paso’s 2,507.

One big disparity between the two communities separated by the Rio Grande is vaccinations. El Paso has administered 590,597 COVID-19 vaccines, fully protecting 36.5% of its population and getting 58.6% at least one dose. Juarez has received only 90,000 vaccines from the Mexican government and health professionals working at private hospitals are so desperate to get a first dose that they signed a petition to be allowed to cross into El Paso to get one.

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