EL PASO, Texas-- The border between the U.S. and Mexico initially shutdown on March 20, 2020, due to the rising cases of Covid-19 in both countries. The closure has now lasted well over a year, and there is belief that it may becoming to an end as the U.S. moves forward with a new sense of normalcy.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control released new guidelines allowing fully-vaccinated Americans to take off their face masks for the first time since the outbreak of the pandemic. It's this massive step forward that has El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego worried the border may be re-opening soon.
“The natural progression right now is that the borders do open and we need to be ready, and I think we'd be much more prepared if everyone kept wearing their masks, I keep seeing businesses taking their signs down saying no masks required and I think it's too early,” Samaniego said.
Samaniego's concern is not that the border will reopen, in fact he embraces the potential boost to the local economy with the return of the Mexican consumer. Instead, Samaniego is worried that Mexico's vaccination rate is lagging so far behind El Paso's that anyone crossing the border un-vaccinated will have the potential of creating a spike in Covid-19 cases here.
“When people come over, it would be a lot easier for us to help them by vaccinating them here in the U.S. than for us to believe that we are going to get that help into Mexico - that is really not going to take place,” Samaniego said.
El Paso's vaccination numbers continue to trend in the right direction. For the first time since the Covid-19 vaccine became available, the number of vaccinated El Pasoans has now surpassed 50%. That number is still far from the minimum 70% scientists say is needed to establish so-called herd immunity, and Samaniego notes that the vaccinated Juarez population is even further away from that figure.
In general, the U.S. leads the charge in vaccinations, with more than 46% of all Americans fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Mexico falls well behind the U.S. with roughly 11% of its population vaccinated.
Samaniego's plan to vaccinate Juarenses is to establish mass vaccination hubs across the county and city.
"We would have the 'mega center' at the El Paso County Coliseum. We could have as much as 5,000 a day and then, we would have one set up in Tornillo, as well as one in Ysleta and in Fabens," Judge Samaniego said.
Samaniego does not have confirmation on a set date on when the border will reopen, but wants to make sure El Paso county and city are ready for when it does.