Mexico Health Officials Say New Coronavirus Cases Coming From People Crossing U.S. Border

Mexican health officials, doctors and residents along the border with the United States say new outbreaks of COVID-19 are tied to people crossing south over the border.

Residents in Nogales, Sonora erected temporary blockades along roadways leading to Arizona during the initial U.S. coronavirus outbreak in March, telling The Associated Press the Mexican government was doing nothing to medically screen people crossing the border from the United States. President Donald Trump has repeatedly touted his border wall construction efforts for helping the "lucky" residents of California, but Mexican officials said their concerns are about people crossing the border - legally - in the other direction. Mexican state governors along the border said thousands of new COVID-19 cases began emerging in late March, just days after California shuttered businesses and issued stay-at-home orders on the other side of the border.

Tijuana physicians told the AP that a recent surge in cases is coming from dual nationals, legal residents and some U.S. citizens wanting to be closer to family during the U.S. pandemic shutdown.

"There were a lot of people who emigrated here to Mexico," Dr. Remedios Lozada, who leads government efforts in the Tijuana health district. "That was when we began facing the higher number of cases."

Tijuana, the border town just miles from San Diego and home to tens of thousands of dual citizens, is now second only to Mexico City in infections. The comparatively much smaller city of Tijuana has seen its hospitals swamped with suspected COVID-19 patients as nurses and doctors told Mexican and international news outlets they don't have the protective equipment to protect themselves from coronavirus.

Last month, Baja California Governor Jaime Bonilla said the state's public health doctors were "dropping like flies" without proper masks, gloves and other medical gear.

The Trump administration on Tuesday extended strict border policies which cite the spread of coronavirus in order to immediately return undocumented immigrants as well as blocking applications for asylum. All non-commercial, "non-essential" passage has been temporarily blocked, despite complaints from immigration activists arguing in favor of asylum-seekers. CDC officials have said they support the restrictions.

The Associated Press reported that Mexican border officials typically only check pedestrians for coronavirus symptoms, meaning truck drivers or other "essential" individuals crossing the border could easily be spreading the virus both ways. Several dual nationals told the AP last week they have been waiting out of the pandemic in Mexico in order to be closer to their families and to save money.

Newsweek reached out to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Saturday afternoon for clarification of both they and Mexican law enforcement's procedures in checking on coronavirus symptoms.

José María Ramos, a professor at the College of the Northern Border in Tijuana, said that Trump's priority appears to be more about halting migration than protecting public health. But Mexican residents say blame for the recent spike in COVID-19 cases should go both ways.

"The people come and go and carry the microbe from the United States or from Tijuana," said Miguel Angel Jiménez, 57, who contracted COVID-19 in April, in an interview with the AP. "So we're never going to end this situation."

Mexican Consul Carlos González Gutiérrez this week rejected the claim of California hospital CEOs and politicians who expressed worries about people crossing the border, either legally or illegally, to receive treatment in the United States.

But Mexican government officials themselves have been accused of fudging coronavirus statistics and repressing negative data. A New York Times investigative report released earlier this month found Mexican health officials failed to account for hundreds, potentially thousands, of COVID-19 deaths in Mexico City alone.

tijuana mexico coronavirus cases border
Mexican health officials, doctors and residents along the border with the United States say new outbreaks of COVID-19 are tied to people crossing south over the border. FRANCISCO VEGA / Stringer/Getty Images