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Border cities report 74 new COVID-19 fatalities

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El Paso health officials schedule afternoon briefing; Juarez authorities say many of the dead had been fighting for their lives for weeks

CIUDAD JUAREZ, MEXICO – NOVEMBER 21: Frontline cemetery workers in full PPE (personal protective equipment) stand by as they bury a victim of COVID-19 at Sueños Eternos cemetery on November 21, 2020 in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. A cement casing is constructed in the grave, which is then covered with an additional layer of cement and dirt as part of COVID-19 protocols as the burial is completed. Juarez, the sister city of hard-hit El Paso, Texas, has seen nearly 600 COVID-19 related deaths since the last week of October. Mexico has now marked over 100,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths, the fourth country to mourn 100,000 deceased in the pandemic, following the U.S., Brazil and India. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – The COVID-19 pandemic continues to claim dozens of lives on the border.

On Thursday, El Paso reported 27 deaths to bring its total to 968. Across the border, Juarez recorded 47 fatalities, bringing the tally to 2,160 during the pandemic.

Some health officials said the 74 combined deaths don’t necessarily mean the virus is spreading faster due to the holiday shopping season. Stores are open, but with limited occupancy.

“People (who catch COVID-19) are usually hospitalized for days, weeks at a time,” said Dr. Arturo Valenzuela, head of the Chihuahua State Health Department in Juarez.

The border saw an increase in infections in October (CDC weeks 41-44), and some of the sick are only now succumbing to complications from the illness, Valenzuela said.

El Paso health officials, meantime, said the number of new COVID-19 infections has been trending down, despite days like Thursday in which deaths have accumulated. They credited the decrease to community members heeding prevention recommendations and reducing their mobility.

“We are cautiously optimistic that the number of infections have decreased, but we should not lower our guard,” said El Paso City-County Health Authority Dr. Hector Ocaranza.

It’s too early to tell if there will be a spike related to Thanksgiving family gatherings. Public Health Director Angela Mora said traffic inside “big box” retailers also had decreased substantially until a few days ago.

The reopening of the economy in Juarez last week and many businesses continuing to operate with restrictions in El Paso aren’t necessarily a recipe for disaster, some officials said.

“Of course we can go back to red (business shutdowns) or we can advance to yellow (a wider economic reopening). That depends on how responsible we are,” Valenzuela said, referring to border residents wearing face coverings, avoiding crowds and parties and practicing frequent hand washing.

Dr. Wendy Avila

Dr. Wendy Avila, deputy director of preventive health services in Chihuahua, said comorbidities continue to play a big role in coronavirus-related fatalities.

South of the border, 34% of the fatalities involved people suffering from hypertension and another 25% had diabetes. In many cases, the patients were not proactively controlling those conditions, she said.

El Paso also has high rates of diabetes and hypertension, as this health department graphic shows:

Avila recommended that people who are obese – who tend to have one or both of the above conditions – need to exercise and watch their diet during the upcoming Christmas season, in case they also come in contact with the virus.

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