JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) — Juarez surpassed 100 COVID-19 related deaths today, as health officials warn that the pandemic is yet to peak south of the U.S. border.

With the 24 fatalities reported in the past two days, the coronavirus death toll in Juarez now stands at 104. With only 433 COVID-19 cases confirmed, that means the death rate stands at a staggering 24% here, compared to the worldwide average of 6%.

Dr. Arturo Valenzuela Zorrilla, director of the Chihuahua state Health Department in Juarez. (photo courtesy State of Chihuahua)

“The curve is still going up. We are on Phase 3” of the pandemic, said Dr. Arturo Valenzuela, head of the Chihuahua state Health Department in Juarez.

Many on both sides of the border have questioned the accuracy of the case count due to insufficient testing. Health department officials said more tests are being done now and that’s one of the reasons why more fatalities are being confirmed day to day.

Health Undersecretary Hugo Lopez Gatell said on Wednesday that he expects the pandemic to peak in Mexico by Friday.

“To flatten the curve doesn’t mean the epidemic is gone. Epidemics don’t stop from one moment to the next,” Lopez Gatell said. “Such reduction will hold only if we stay home as much as possible […] we still have ahead of us more than half of the epidemic’s cycle.”

Chart of COVID-19 fatalities in the state of Chihuahua. Juarez is the first column on the left; the second one is Chihuahua City. (graphic courtesy State of Chihuahua)

But Valenzuela said conditions are different in Chihuahua and Mexico City. For instance, Chihuahua one week ago had 398 coronavirus cases and 75 deaths, compared to 684 cases and 125 fatalities on Wednesday, an increase of 72% and 67%, respectively,

He urged border residents to obey stay-at-home orders and cautioned against a premature reopening of businesses and factories.

“We entered this several days after (Mexico City). It’s logical to think the curve will flatten first in southern Mexico, then in the north,” Valenzuela said. “We should not do what Mexico City does or what the United States does. We need to do things according to where we are. […] We are on Stage 3, to go back to Stage 1 would be absurd.”

The Mexican government since late April has been under pressure from the United States and its own industrialists to reopen manufacturing plants that produce parts for the American automotive, electronics and medical industry. In Juarez, most of the 300 or so maquiladoras have either reduced operations or have suspended them.

Factory workers halt their work to protest against the lack of safety measures against the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, outside Electrocomponentes of Mexico, a company in the Mexican city of Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua State, on the US border, on April 20, 2020. (Photo by HERIKA MARTINEZ/AFP via Getty Images)

Valenzuela said the business community has a right to express concerns about long-term damage to the Mexican economy if the plants and businesses don’t reopen soon.

But he said medical authorities also have a responsibility to protect the public’s health.

“We have to tell them why we don’t consider it good to relax (restrictions) or open the economy. We are on Stage 3 (of the epidemic) in Chihuahua and we need to act accordingly. Once we flatten the curve, we will see about a transition to reactivate the economy and industry in our state,” he said.

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