EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — COVID-19 fatalities doubled overnight in Juarez, Mexico, as authorities south of the border admitted they had been slow in reporting the true scope of the epidemic.
The state of Chihuahua on Thursday reported seven confirmed and four suspected coronavirus deaths, when just a day before they had stated only four people had died as a result of the disease. Nine of the deaths are in Juarez, one in Chihuahua City and one in Cuauhtemoc. Likewise, Juarez city is now reporting 26 COVID-19 cases, but officials said the total number of infections could be 10 times as large.
Chihuahua Gov. Javier Corral said the discrepancies stem from a four- to five-day lag in obtaining test results from federal government hospitals, which have to get clearance from Mexico City. He said state labs are now doing all of the testing and thus would be presenting more up-to-date results to the public.
“This lapse has generated doubts and mistrust. Suspicious cases linked to COVID-19 can’t be confirmed immediately, so people think we’re hiding things. It’s just a delay due to the process. We will speed up that process,” Corral said in a teleconference.
Thus, the state of Chihuahua now stands at 43 confirmed cases and 11 fatalities. State epidemiologist Gumaro Barrios said there could be up to 430 actual cases, but many are likely asymptomatic. The state now has the capacity to test up to 60 people a day.
“We have had an increased number of cases in the past few days, that was expected. The numbers will increase exponentially as the pandemic advances,” said Dr. Mirna Beltran, also with the Health Department.
Three of the fatalities were employees of a U.S.-run maquiladora, which has temporarily ceased operations, Chihuahua officials said. They would not name the factory nor say why the workers became sick. The factories are known for observing international cleaning standards, but they employ hundreds of workers and until last week most remained open.
Employees of one such plant have posted on social media condolences for the families of six production and janitorial workers they say died of COVID-19.
Health officials said 22 suspected coronavirus patients remain hospitalized, four of them critical and on ventilators.
By comparison, El Paso, Texas just north of the border tallied 225 cases as of Thursday afternoon, including its first fatality. The deceased was a male patient.
Juarez residents, like their neighbors in El Paso remain under a stay-at-home order. But many in both cities aren’t observing it. El Paso City-County Health Authority Dr. Hector Ocaranza said five COVID-19 cases were traced to a single gathering of five people in their 20s and seven to a gathering of guests in their 40s. The largest cluster of cases (11) in El Paso, though, have been traced to a health care facility, he said.
In Juarez, Border Report has documented that people are still crowding Downtown automatic teller machines, the market south of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Cathedral and that many retail stores remain open
City and state authorities are aware of this and are now sending police units, fire trucks and army patrols throughout the city telling people through loudspeakers to go home. The operation will continue through Easter Sunday, Juarez city officials said.
Ocaranza recommended that El Paso residents don’t go visit their relatives in Juarez while the pandemic is going on. He also urged frequent handwashing and the use of facemasks when going outside.
“We are closely monitoring the situation in Juarez and the number of deaths south of the border. It is very worrisome,” Ocaranza said. “We know many of our residents have family in Juarez. We urge them not to visit their loved ones right now because we could be taking the virus to them or bringing it back with us.”