Crackdown on overcrowded buses begins as Juarez adds 12 new COVID-19 deaths

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Business owners, workers take to the streets in protest, demand bars and restaurants be allowed to reopen

JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) — Another 12 COVID-19 patients are dead in Juarez, where the coronavirus now has claimed 306 lives and infected 1,354 people.

Thousands more are likely infected but are either asymptomatic or haven’t sought care at the government hospitals where testing is usually done, Chihuahua state health officials said.

More than half the victims are adults with underlying health conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and morbid obesity, but 504 health workers in the state have been struck by the virus. Eleven of those providers have died, said Dr. Arturo Valenzuela, state health department director in Juarez.

El Paso County, Texas, reports 197 new COVID-19 infections — the highest spike to date — to bring its total to 3,069 cases, with 89 fatalities.

Health inspectors on Thursday found overcrowded buses in Juarez. (photo courtesy State of Chihuahua)

Another at-risk group includes people who ride mass transit. Large groups of people have been congregating at bus stops since many factories and government buildings reopened on Monday, and that is creating a pool for the spread of the disease, officials say.

On Thursday morning, police officers and health inspectors showed up at bus stops to address the problem. Sure enough, they found riders not observing social distancing and bus drivers allowing more than the 30-passenger cap per vehicle. Photographs shared by state officials show clear violations.

“We’re working with police to encourage people to observe a safe distance and restrict (the number) of riders to reduce the impact of COVID-19,” said Tania Maya, head of public transportation in the city. “We have seen a lot of movement in the past few days. We know people have to go to work, but they can encourage their families to stay home, to not go out.”

Police officers try to convince passengers to get off an overcrowded bus and wait for the next one. (photo courtesy State of Chihuahua)

Despite the reopening of factories and government buildings, Juarez remains under a “red light” designation, which means most businesses must remain closed. Several business owners and their employees have been pushing for a more widespread reopening. Some even took to the streets to protest on Wednesday.

However, health officials say that even if the city moves into an “orange light” designation later this month, many businesses must remain closed and those allowed to reopen can only operate at 30% capacity.

Dental offices are only open for emergency procedures and will only be allowed to operate at 50% under a “yellow light,” said Dr. Leticia Ruiz, head of preventive medicine in Chihuahua state.

Mexico’s ‘red light, green light’ chart and what can open under each designation. (graphic courtesy State of Chihuahua)

Most sidewalk-type shops can open at 30% on “orange light,” but those inside malls won’t be allowed to open until a “yellow light” is implemented.

“There is a risk of (contagion) when people hang around (the halls) of shopping centers […] children’s areas should also remain closed because it’s hard for children to (observe) social distancing,” she said.

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