In Mexican border cities, many fear virus is coming from US


TIJUANA, Mexico (AP) — Adrián Alonso Gama lived life on both sides of the border, until he got the coronavirus.

On weekends the 37-year-old truck driver would stay at his parents’ home in Tijuana. Thanks to his U. S. green card, he lived in his own place in San Diego during the week, delivering beer and auto parts around the American southwest.

Last week, Gama started feeling sick and returned to Mexico to be close to family. He was diagnosed with COVID-19, becoming one of the more than 1,700 confirmed coronavirus patients who make Tijuana second only to Mexico City in infections, despite the border city’s relatively small population.

Citing a threat of the coronavirus from Mexico, the Trump administration has banned hundreds of thousands of people from crossing the southern border with emergency measures that prohibit nonessential traffic and reject asylum seekers without a hearing. At least one American border region is experiencing a spike in hospitalizations that some believe is driven by American citizens who live in Mexico coming to the U. S. for care.

But in Tijuana and other Mexican border cities, many doctors, health officials and ordinary citizens worry about the disease coming in the other direction.

San Diego — with roughly the same population as Tijuana — has triple the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19, at more than 6,000. The state of California has about 10 times as many people as the Mexican state of Baja California to the south — but reported more than 20 times the number of cases. Mexico has a notoriously low testing rate, but that alone seems an insufficient explanation.

Tijuana saw its cases begin to rise significantly in late March soon after California shuttered many businesses and ordered people to stay home, said Dr. Remedios Lozada, who is in charge of the Tijuana health district. It appears that much of the surge came from dual nationals and legal residents like Gama, who wanted to be closer to family or live more cheaply in Tijuana during the shutdown.

“There were a lot of people who emigrated here to Mexico,” Lozada said. “That was when we began facing the higher number of cases.”

Tijuana’s hospitals became swamped with suspected COVID-19 patients. Desperate relatives demanded information about their loved ones outside medical facilities. Nurses and doctors protested that they didn’t have the necessary protective equipment as the virus swept through their ranks.

Baja California Gov. Jaime Bonilla said in mid-April that the public health system’s doctors in the state were “dropping like flies” because they lacked protective gear.

Farther down the border in Nogales, Sonora, residents temporarily blocked the crossing from Arizona with their vehicles in March because they said the Mexican government was doing nothing to medically screen people coming from the U. S., and they feared the pandemic would overwhelm Mexico’s health system.

Meanwhile, California officials and hospital CEOs have expressed concern about people crossing the border to get treatment on the U. S. side. Last month, San Diego County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar sent a letter to Vice President Mike Pence asking the White House to send aid to help Mexico treat patients, citing increasing concern ... (Read more)

Submitted 12 days ago

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