Virus claims 10 more lives in Mexican border city

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Health officials try to deal with pandemic amid skepticism about accuracy of count and facing protests from health workers

JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) — Juarez officials today announced 10 additional fatalities related to COVID-19 and warned this city is now hitting the high point of the pandemic.

A total of 532 people have been diagnosed with the virus in Juarez, and 123 have died, said Dr. Arturo Valenzuela, head of the Chihuahua state Health Department here. On Monday, the count stood at 507 cases and 113 deaths.

Health officials last week admitted the city may have thousands more undiagnosed cases due to limited testing. “These are the cases we know of through PCR testing,” Valenzuela said on Tuesday. “No number is real, but this gives us a (snapshot) and allows us to make decisions. The hard data we get from the hospitals is very fluid.”

At least 17 of the fatalities were employees of the U.S.-run manufacturing plants that are the city’s biggest employer. Valenzuela said that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with prevention at the plants, it’s just that they concentrate a lot of people in enclosed spaces.

“If you have hundreds or even thousands of people in closed buildings, you are going to have outbreaks,” Valenzuela said. “The maquiladora (managers) came to us for advice when this started, but it was going to be impossible for their workers not to get sick.”

Hundreds more who are infected — as many as one in three here — are health workers. Several nurses, lab technicians and nursing assistants have held protests on the streets of Juarez over concerns they’re not being given the proper personal protective equipment. Lately, they have also complained about being excluded from emergency bonus payments for health workers.

Valenzuela said medical personnel are given appropriate PPE gear depending on whether they have direct contact or not with the infected. He said the same holds true for the bonuses of up to 30% of their salaries.

“It’s not the same to take the bull by the horns than to see (the bullfight) from the stands. […} If they want the bonuses, I invite them to volunteer a turn directly caring for (COVID-19) patients,” he said.

Later, he added that dissatisfied health workers were welcome to talk to hospital or health department management. “If we work together, we’ll have better results,” he said. “We are now at the peak of (the pandemic).”

This chart from the Chihuahua Health Department shows Juarez and the rest of the state are currently at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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