El Paso-Juarez region surpasses 5,000 COVID-19 deaths

Border Report

Pandemic leaves grim toll in binational border community

Jorge Ortiz, general manager of Perches Funeral Homes, pushes a casket to a hearse with Assistant Funeral Director Gabriel Tavarez (L) at Perches Funeral Home in El Paso, Texas, on December 4, 2020. (Photo by PAUL RATJE/AFP via Getty Images)

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – One year after the arrival of COVID-19 to the region, El Paso and Juarez have combined for more than 5,000 coronavirus-related deaths.

El Paso reported 12 new coronavirus-related fatalities on Friday, bringing its total to 2,234 during the pandemic. The COVID-19 death toll stood at 2,778 across the border in Juarez, Mexico, which means the two cities have now combined for 5,012 deaths.

El Paso detected its first COVID-19 case on March 13 – a man in his 40s. The city recorded its first COVID-19 fatality on April 9 involving a man in his 80s. Juarez had its first confirmed case on March 17.

Juarez and El Paso have accounted for 155,739 confirmed COVID-19  cases. Juarez is twice the size of El Paso, with 1.5 million inhabitants. However, it has reported only a fraction of the COVID-19 cases as El Paso (29,323 to 126,416, respectively). The disparity stems from different testing strategies. Juarez mostly tests people who show up sick at hospitals.

“It is regrettable that we have lost so many people. Each of them was a brother a sister, a son or a father to someone,” said Dr. Arturo Valenzuela, Juarez director of the Chihuahua Health Department. “On this border, we share an economy, traditions, we even use words that combine two languages. We also share diseases. What happens in one city happens in the other one as well, even if you try to close the border.”

He said it’s good that El Paso is ramping up its vaccination because people continue to travel back and forth between the two cities despite non-essential border travel restrictions still in effect.

Also, he said El Paso and Juarez health officials have established good lines of communication because of the pandemic. “That will be very helpful if we ever have to deal with a different pandemic or another major public health emergency.”

In El Paso, City-County Health Authority Dr. Hector Ocaranza said lack of access to medical care and high diabetes and hypertension rates in El Paso have contributed to the coronavirus toll.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for not only our community, but for the entire region,” Ocaranza said. “The one-year mark of a pandemic that has proven to be unpredictable, challenging and ever changing; on the other hand, this pandemic has brought us together and made us realize our resilience and love for each other.” 

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