JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) – Facing a new major COVID-19 spike and with some of its hospitals at 85% occupancy, the state of Chihuahua might have to reinstate restrictions on businesses and mobility, health officials warned.

Confirmed coronavirus cases in the last week have reached levels not seen since October when the state declared threat condition red. Back then, most businesses were closed or observed restricted hours of operation, and people were fined for being out at night on non-essential business.

“We’re going directly back to red if we don’t do anything,” said Dr. Arturo Valenzuela, Chihuahua Health Department director in Juarez. He and other health officials attribute the spike to numerous family gatherings during the Easter holiday and younger people thinking the pandemic is over and resuming high-risk activities, then passing the infection to older relatives.

Seven of the state’s largest hospitals – including Juarez General Hospital – had occupancy rates of 70% or higher on Tuesday. More than 1,400 new infections have been reported in the past week in a state where testing typically takes place once a person arrives at a hospital already sick.

“It appears that mobility has changed since March, since Easter vacations,” said Dr. Leticia Ruiz, head of preventive health services for the state. “Since we had the worst of the pandemic in October and November, we had achieved an equilibrium … until the end of March. We’ve had a constant increase in the past four weeks,” she said.

The graphic shows how COVID-19 cases have spiked in Chihuahua. (courtesy Sate of Chihuahua)

Mexican Health Undersecretary Hugo Lopez Gatell on Monday night said Chihuahua has become the country’s hot spot for COVID-19. Some of his representatives will be meeting with Chihuahua state officials this week to determine if a health state of emergency should be declared.

Gov. Javier Corral confirmed the meeting and conceded infection and hospitalization rates are up.  

“We’ll convene an emergency Health Council meeting to discuss the increase in these two indicators that we need to control to avoid the humanitarian emergency we faced last year,” he said. “We need to call on people to reduce their mobility, not to gather, not go to family reunions. We are asking people to exercise social responsibility because the pandemic gives no quarter.”

Juarez General Hospital is among the hospitals in Chihuahua where occupancy has reached 70% or higher. (courtesy State of Chihuahua)

Chihuahua borders Texas and New Mexico. And despite a 13-month non-essential border travel rule, thousands of people cross the El Paso-Juarez border every day bringing with them the possibility of cross-border transmission of the virus.

Also, vaccination rates are an issue south of the border. Whereas El Paso County as of Tuesday had applied 564,559 COVID-19 vaccines and had 35% of its population fully vaccinated, Juarez had only applied 90,000 doses and not even all of its medical workers had received one. Juarez’s population is almost twice that of El Paso County.

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