JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) — Though still at the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, Juarez has decided to resume city services and call back to work 50% of its municipal employees by Monday.
In a Wednesday teleconference, Mayor Armando Cabada explained the changes are in line with plans outlined earlier in the day by the president of Mexico to reactivate government services and the economy by June 1.
The abrupt about-face comes even as Juarez is in the middle of a virtual curfew in which 400 cars have been impounded from drivers who couldn’t prove they were out on essential errands.
Also, more public servants are coming down with COVID-19. Cabada himself is working from home after being diagnosed with the virus, two of his police officers have died from it and one of his department heads just became infected.
“In compliance with the ‘new normal’ that starts on Monday, May 18, we have decided that all city departments return to work at 50% capacity,” Cabada said.
He said all city departments are required to resume operations on Monday and noted that some have stayed on the job the whole time, including police, fire, health services, civil protection and social services. All employees will receive facemasks and any necessary personal protective equipment, thermometers and cleaning supplies for their office.
Access to public buildings remains limited to a still-to-be-determined number of people at a time, and those who come in must wear facemasks and disinfect their hands with gel at the entrance.
One of the factors that forced Juarez’s hand is President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s designation of automotive parts manufacturers as essential businesses.
“Our city is very dependent on maquiladoras. They are 63% of our economy,” the mayor said. The Juarez Maquiladora Association told him the plants would reopen little by little and would call back to work no more than 25% of their workers on Monday. The Mexican government is asking each plant to rearrange workspaces to allow proper social distancing and keep the premises clean at all times.
Juarez has seen dozens of new COVID-19 deaths in the past two weeks, including five between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. The president’s edict, though, gives local governments a partial “escape clause” if they’re still in mid-pandemic. It consists of a “green light, red light” designation that allows them to crackdown on non-essential businesses and activities.
No color has been assigned to Juarez yet, but Cabada said he would keep gyms, parks, sports fields and libraries off-limits to the public for the rest of the month. He will also require businesses to offer essential products if they want to open before June 1. Open-air markets can reopen by Monday but must observe social distancing and hygiene measures.
Cabada said he won’t be cleared to return to his office until after May 14, being that he was diagnosed with COVID-19 on May 4. Neither will his human rights director, Rogelio Pinal, who was just diagnosed Tuesday.
Pinal has been interviewing migrants expelled from the United States through the pandemic and likely caught the virus at work, Cabada said.
“We had 96 returned (to Juarez) just yesterday and he (interviewed) 44 of them. Most wanted to return to their homes. (He) escorted them to the bus station. … He is now in isolation,” the mayor said.
Although international travel restrictions remain in place at U.S. ports of entry, returning American citizens and legal permanent residents are still being admitted. Some Juarez officials worry more El Pasoans will now be encouraged to visit relatives, even when that’s a non-essential travel activity.
Border Report late Wednesday requested comment from El Paso health authorities regarding Mexico’s impending “open for business” plans, but did not immediately get a response.