Spike in COVID-19 cases may shut down Juarez bars, restrict attendance at churches

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As commuters line border crossings, Mexican health officials fear international travel may be exacerbating contagion

JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) — Juarez might have to close its bars again and severely restrict attendance at churches and gyms, given a spike in COVID-19 cases, health officials said on Tuesday.

Chihuahua state officials allowed those venues to reopen on Sept. 1, but have since reported 1,047 new coronavirus cases and 87 deaths. Almost half of the new cases were in Juarez, as were 31 of the deaths. Five of those deaths were reported on Tuesday.

International land travel — evidence by Labor Day weekend waits of up to four hours at border crossings between Juarez and El Paso, Texas — may be contributing to the problem, health officials said.

“Increased mobility implies favorable conditions for transmission of the SARS-2 virus. The more people who go out, the more people cross the bridges going one way or the other, the more there will be transmission of the virus and possibly, impacts to our hospital capacity,” said Dr. Arturo Valenzuela, head of the state health department in Juarez.

A Juarez police officer directs traffic heading toward the Paso del Norte port of entry into El Paso. (AP file photo)

U.S. Customs and Border Protection began enforcing a non-essential travel ban at international ports of entry. However, CBP officials say many American citizens continue going into Mexico to visit family members, dine at restaurants and engage in leisure activities.

The health department on Sept. 1 placed Juarez on COVID-19 threat level “yellow,” allowing bars, churches and gyms to open at 30% capacity.

Going back to threat level “orange” means Juarez will have to shut down bars again and restrict church and gym capacity to 15%, said Dr. Leticia Ruiz, health department preventive services director.

“It’s important to observe preventive measures. We know there is fatigue on the part of people who have been confined for months. But this is our new reality. If we try to go back to the way things were before, we will have problems, we will go have more restrictions,” she said.

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