As President Donald Trump plans to visit Arizona on Tuesday to highlight his promised border wall project, he will go to a region where there is growing fear that a new coronavirus that does not respect borders may be helping to increase rapidly growing infection rates.
The president is slated to have a photo opportunity for the completion of the 200-mile new border wall in Yuma, Arizona. Dave Nash, a city spokesman, told ABC News that the cases in Arizona are “rising like a hockey stick.” “Increasing along with cases in Yuma itself, although he said he felt the county was ready for a rebound.”
An hour west, in the rural town of El Centro, residents are by far seeing the worst infection and death rates in California, according to public data. The surrounding county, in the desert region along the border with Mexico, is one of the few counties in California that remains under some level of blockade.
And east of Yuma, the city of Nogales is experiencing the highest infection rates in Arizona.
At the border, US hospital, state and local officials in Arizona and California told ABC News they were concerned that the virus crossing the national border could be partly to blame, with the high number of essential workers and travelers. Authorized daily through checkpoints in accordance with limited restrictions announced shortly after the start of the outbreak. They believe that Mexican states that sit flush with the southwestern United States are feeling similar tension from the epidemic.
Nationally, the United States has reported much higher numbers than its southern neighbor, some 2.3 million positive cases and more than 120,000 deaths, according to a count by Johns Hopkins University. The states bordering Mexico represent approximately 368,000 positive cases. Border communities in Arizona and California have seen a more concerning increase in cases recently, relative to those in Texas and New Mexico, though officials in those states also said they are concerned.
Cases and deaths reported by the Mexican government had shown relatively slow growth in the first weeks of the pandemic when authorities began reporting figures in mid-March. But in recent days, the numbers have increased at a faster rate than ever, with the latest total number of cases exceeding 180,000 and deaths near 22,000, according to The New York Times. Government officials have acknowledged that both figures are underestimated due to a lack of evidence and delayed results, according to an Associated Press report.
“Mexicali is overwhelmed,” Dr. Adolphe Edward, CEO of El Centro Regional Medical Center, told ABC News, referring to the Mexican border city south of El Centro. “They are at their highest point. They are really fighting to the point that we have been asking for [aid organizations] go to work there to help them. ”
Infection rates are equally high across the Mexican state of Baja California, which stretches west to Tijuana, according to New York Times data.
Last week, the US government. USA It extended for one more month the travel restrictions that prohibit non-essential travel by non-US citizens from Mexico to the country. But those travel restrictions, in addition to essential workers, don’t stop the intense flow of routine cross-border travel for the more than 250,000 Americans who live in Baja California and thousands who travel south to shop, eat, and visit relatives and then return. home, said the mayor of El Centro, Efraín Silva.
“Our border is extremely important to us,” said Silva. “We are united not only by proximity, but by blood in many cases.”
In Nogales, Arizona, Mayor Arturo Garino said thousands of trucks cross the border every day for essential business, and that people are lined up for hours every day to cross. He said the city is not tracking the role border traffic plays in the spread of the coronavirus, but said he believes it must be contributing.
“If you stand in a line at the border to cross and you’re standing there for two hours, three hours, you’re probably not socially estranged,” Garino said.
Authorized border crossings are subject to the same customs inspection conducted at United States airports across the country. Under current federal guidelines, checks include visual exams for possible COVID-19 symptoms and additional testing by health assessors if necessary.
Garino said the cases skyrocketed after a series of festivities that draw large numbers from both sides of the border: Easter Sunday, followed by the May Festival, Mother’s Day and Memorial Day. The city has canceled its popular July 4 festival, where more than 10,000 people typically gather for a parade and music.
Imperial County in California and Santa Cruz County in Arizona have released figures showing that only a small percentage of coronavirus infections could be conclusively traced to people who crossed the border. But state and local officials and health experts told ABC News that they have strong suspicions that the numbers are significant.
They said it has been difficult to assess infection rates on the Mexican side of the border because very few Mexican cities have access to tests and other resources.
Garino said Nogales, with a population of 22,000, shows more positive cases than Nogales, Mexico, which has more than 500,000 residents, even though the two cities are on the border.
“There is something wrong here,” Garino said of the coronavirus count.
Local officials in Mexicali and Nogales, Mexico, did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment Monday night. A spokesman for the United States Customs and Border Protection forwarded questions from ABC News to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which did not immediately respond Monday night.
In the United States, Edwards said that the medical center at El Centro in recent days has been forced to transfer large numbers of patients to other facilities in the area because the virus “has exhausted our resources.” He said he has now begun to hear from other area hospitals that they, too, are increasingly concerned about running out of intensive care beds.
Scripps Health CEO Chris Van Gorder said the company’s hospitals in San Diego County in California have received hundreds of patients from Imperial County, but they recently had to freeze transfers because they were running out of space.
Van Gorder said he sent a letter to the Trump administration in late April asking the federal government to conduct medical checks at the border, “at least temperature checks,” and to order quarantine for suspected positive individuals. He said he was concerned that inadequate medical resources in Baja California could pose a “very real threat” if there were efforts to restart the economy that would bring more traffic to the north.
For local officials, the severity of the outbreak has begun to establish. Garino had initially been among officials who expressed reservations about imposing a blockade or closing the border. Last week, he joined a growing number of Arizona mayors in demanding that their residents wear masks in public.
“My concern right now is the health and well-being of citizens in Nogales, Arizona,” said Garino. “So if the border will be closed for non-essentials until July 21, I think it’s a good move because at least several hundred thousand people in that month will not be able to cross if they are not essential.”
ABC News’ Quinn Owen contributed to this report.
What to know about the coronavirus: