EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — If you love your mom, stay away from her this Mother’s Day.
That’s the message health officials are sending for fear that family gatherings will spark a new wave of COVID-19 infections on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.
“We are very concerned because we’re a community that embraces our mothers and our grandmothers. Everyone is going to want to gather around them and celebrate all the hard work that they do,” said Dr. Hector Ocaranza, health authority for the City and County of El Paso. “But we need to do that in a virtual way (this year). We don’t want them to get infected by someone bringing the virus to them.”
The City of El Paso is also discouraging picnicking at municipal parks and Franklin Mountain State Park. The Local Emergency Directive states that park playgrounds, basketball courts, dog parks and skate parks remain closed until further notice. Some walking paths have reopened as long as social distancing is observed.
The coronavirus remains a threat in El Paso, as evidenced by the 1,080 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 22 fatalities and 544 active cases as of Tuesday. Neighboring Juarez, Mexico has reported 24 coronavirus-related deaths in the past two days, bringing its total to 104.
“We’re seeing there’s still patients in the hospital and being admitted to ICU and on ventilators. That is the reason we continue promoting the same message,” Ocaranza said.
He emphasizes that the elderly are particularly vulnerable to the virus. “How many older adults do we know that have diabetes? Almost every family (in El Paso) has someone that has diabetes. That is one of the risk factors. We need to keep that in mind,” he said at this week’s County Commissioners Court meeting.
More than 60 percent of El Paso and Juarez residents have relatives across from each other, so Mother’s Day also poses a challenge for border communities.
“We are one region,” Ocaranza said. “What happens in one community can be translated to the other.”
With that in mind, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) today reminded people that non-essential international travel restrictions announced in March and extended on April 20 remain in place.
“Travel related to tourism or visiting friends or relatives is currently deemed non-essential,” the agency said in a news release.
The Mother’s Day holiday is historically one of the busiest at the El Paso ports of entry and the concern usually centers around imported flowers that may be infected by pests.
“While we anticipate lower traffic volumes than previous years, we remind travelers that our frontline personnel remain vigilant to ensure agricultural items are free from insects, pests or disease,” CBP El Paso Director of Field Operations Hector Mancha said in a news release.”
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In Juarez, Chihuahua state officials are urging residents to avoid visiting El Paso and are warning that they will get tough on non-compliance with a stay-at-home order and other emergency measures to stop the spread of COVID-19.
“We are just going into the most critical stage, we will be more strict with the restrictions in coming days because it seems someone told them everything was fine now,” Chihuahua Gov. Javier Corral said this morning. He noted that he saw a large volume of traffic on city streets.
Corral said he urged the mayor of Juarez to fine motorists who travel with more than one passenger and to ensure public transportation buses are enforcing social distancing.
Preventing a gathering of the extended family in private residences this Mother’s Day will be difficult, Juarez officials admit, but they will crack down on one type of public gathering that is unique to the border.
“It is not advisable to visit the cemeteries,” said Dr. Arturo Valenzuela, head of the Chihuahua state Health Department in Juarez. Just like in Day of the Dead (Nov. 2), families on Mother’s Day tend to lay flowers and spend time by the graveside of the family matriarch.