Mexican border city reports 34% coronavirus death rate

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Up to 13 of the dead in Juarez worked for U.S.-run maquiladoras; El Paso health authorities concerned about what's going on with neighbors to the south

JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) — Juarez reported two additional COVID-19 deaths Tuesday, bringing the total to 16 during the pandemic. In addition, 29 patients remain hospitalized, seven of them in “very serious” condition and on ventilators.

With only 47 confirmed cases of the disease, the death rate from the virus in this Mexican across the border from El Paso, Texas stands at 34%, compared to the worldwide rate of 6%. By contrast, El Paso has recorded 300 COVID-19 cases and only two fatalities.

Some Juarez officials have expressed concern that not enough residents are being tested and that the actual number of COVID-19 cases here could be much higher. A Chihuahua state health official, Dr. Gumaro Barrios, said last week it’s possible there may be 10 asymptomatic coronavirus cases for every case that has been recorded through testing in the city.

“It’s certainly complicated to know asymptomatic cases anywhere in the world,” said Dr. Arturo Valenzuela, the ranking state health official in Juarez. But with more than 5,000 test kits on the way, “it would allow us to survey how many asymptomatic we have per each positive.”

In addition to 75 confirmed cases in the state of Chihuahua, the state has 171 suspected cases awaiting the result of testing.

Juarez news outlets on Monday reported that 11 COVID-19 cases are maquiladora workers, but health officials have made contradictory statements about the identity of the victims.

“That would be disclosing personal information, if we say they work for a maquiladora or not. We don’t give out names of patients, names of maquiladoras nor any information that could disclose that,” Valenzuela said.

Fourteen of the Juarez fatalities took place at a hospital for workers and their families (IMSS), one more at a hospital for government workers (ISSSTE) and another at a federal government clinic (SS).

Dr. Humberto Campos, section chief for the IMSS hospital in Juarez, said his understanding is that 13 of the 14 fatalities there are maquiladora workers. He said only a pregnant woman who died days after an emergency C-section was not a maquila worker. The woman suffered obesity and diabetes.

Valenzuela said that three out of four individuals who have died in Juarez so far had underlying medical conditions: 37% had diabetes, 18% were obese and another 18% suffered hypertension.

In El Paso, American health officials are closely monitoring the situation of their neighbors to the south.

“We are aware of the situation in Juarez and we are very concerned because of how the situation has evolved and the lack of preventive measures implemented in Juarez. Having said that, the fatality rate might be a reflection of the lack of preventive measures implemented in the community and the limited access to medical services by much of the population,” said Dr. Hector Ocaranza, El Paso City-County Health Authority.

He said El Paso is aware of Juarez’s limited testing capacity and of additional deaths due to atypical pneumonia possibly brought on by COVID-19. 

Ocaranza added that Juarez residents aren’t seeing the current COVID-19 pandemic as an emergency, therefore don’t follow social distancing, proper hygiene, the wearing of face masks and are still having mass gatherings.

“It is until very recently that authorities have closed bars and restaurants and prohibited the use of public parks, but the virus is already in the community and spreading very rapidly causing many people to be infected and developing severe complications from the infection,” Ocaranza said.

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