Special Report: Bordering A Potential Catastrophe
Matt Pierce Briscoe
Hospitals in Mexico are being overwhelmed with coronavirus patients and in Juarez, they were recently reported to be at over 100% capacity. In Nuevo Laredo, the situation is much the same. Data from United States Customs and Border Protection tells an even more bleak story than what many Americans even realize and the worse part is that many of them are not even aware of the impacts directly related to them.
The Department of Homeland Security says that they recognize just how overwhelmed the hospitals are just across the border, but there is little that they can except for monitor the situation. They also say that they are following every rule set out from both governments, but the potential catastrophe is causing major concern.
“We are seeing increased amounts of traffic and limited restrictions,” says one Customs and Border Protection agent in Laredo. “We are doing all that we can do and that is just not a lot.”
Border Patrol agents feel that their hands are tied when it comes to protecting an already highly fortified border between two countries and even if they were somehow more strict, they still would have trouble denying the 1.5 million Americans who call America home, entry into their own country.
Dr. Filipe Chavez says that many of the people that he is encountering are American citizens who are what he calls “very ill” and are needing more advanced treatment.
“They are sick and we do not have the resources here to treat them,” Dr. Chavez said on Saturday. “If you can be treated in the United States then by all means do it.”
The rules that are in place right now do not forbid that from happening. In fact, guidance says that people who are seeing medical treatment in the United States are allowed to cross the border without too much of a hassle.
“We will not prevent somebody who can lawfully cross into Texas from doing so,” one CBP official said. “If they have the right to be here then there is an understanding that we will allow them to do what they need to do and go where they need to go.”
Dr. Chavez says that some of the patients that he is seeing can travel to and from the United States and he encourages them to do so, if they can.
“Most of our ventilators are going to Mexico City,” Dr. Chavez says. “I don’t have nearly enough to handle the patients that I have already. The Government tells us that we may not even be able to get more until at least August and by then I am afraid that we will be completely overwhelmed.”
Current restrictions are set to expire on at just before midnight on June 21, 2020 but many feel like they will likely be renewed.
“Oh sure, just like in the USA we have restrictions and they are actually even more strict,” Dr. Chavez says. “But just like in America, the people are not listening and the government is not enforcing.”
Dr. Chavez says that he feels that there are similarities between the two systems and that is contributing to the problems on both sides of the border.
Mexican government estimates show that as many as one million Mexican citizens could be currently without work. Local estimates have that number much higher. Mexico has a very large population of uninsured citizens as it is, but when a person has a lapse in coverage they are forced to deal with public hospitals like the one where Dr. Chavez treats his patients.
“So many of us either have coronavirus, had coronavirus or are at risk of getting it,” he says. “We do not have the PPE to keep us safe and there is very little signal that we will get what we need.”
But what about those restrictions that are in place on both sides of the border? As it is now, Mexican citizens are not supposed to be out and about unless it is to seek medical supplies, go to work, get groceries preform other essential functions. According to officials, that is not exactly being enforced.
“Just like in the United States people are living their own lives and they are ignoring the rules,” Dr. Chavez says. “Like you, we have government officials handing out rules and regulations but just like you, we like our freedom to do what we want, when we want.”
Some maintain that the coronavirus does not like heat and humidity. Health data and practical response lends to the idea that it has little impact on the virus.
On Saturday it was well over 90 degrees here in the border region and new cases were popping up everywhere you look.
“I feel like that is a medical myth,” says Dr. Gloria de Jesus Molina Gamboa, Secretary of Health for the Government of Tamaulipas. “If that is the case then by now we would have seen a significant decrease in the number of cases and we have not.”
She says that the government is doing all that they can do, but there is still so much to be done. It is her view that the situation is quickly becoming dire. Her office and her staff have all heard and seen the problems, but there is little that they feel like they can do.
“”In recent days we have recorded the highest numbers of cases yet,” Dr. Molina Gamboa said.
On Sunday, 130 new cases and 8 deaths in Tamaulipas. Those numbers take the official figures to 3,389 confirmed, 1255 recovered and 211 deaths.
Just the day before, officials in Tamaulipas reported 152 new cases of COVID-19 and 9 deaths.
Twenty of those cases reported on Saturday were from Nuevo Laredo. 49 cases were reported in Reynosa.
“We are seeing a lot of people traveling across and going back and forth,” says Reynoldo Saenz with the CBP. “We see people from not just here in the border towns but places like where you are from in Corpus Christi and San Antonio.”
Saenz says that he is concerned that people are crossing and making matters worse.
“This is going to be a really big problem,” he says. “We are going to have to face it one way or the other one day. That stay is coming sooner or later unless we can figure out a way to get control of this and get control of it now because people on both sides are not taking this very seriously.”