JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) – Chihuahua plans to hand out 175,000 free facemasks in the next few days, as the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to spiral out of control in the area.
The state has also issued an emergency order authorizing fines and/or the arrest for up to 36 hours for people who knowingly “go out in public open or enclosed spaces” without a facemask.
Discretion to conduct arrests will be left up to municipalities like Juarez, which on Monday rolled back its economic reopening due to rising COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations. Juarez has reported 916 deaths and 8,841 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic. Across the border in El Paso, Texas, the death toll reached 553 on Wednesday, with 29,887 infections confirmed to date.
“We are manufacturing a large number of facemasks – 175,000 — at the state prisons. We are also procuring donations (from manufacturers),” Chihuahua State Director of Health Eduardo Fernandez said Wednesday in a teleconference. “We will take them to places where the people gather: street markets, bus stops, shopping centers […] This will begin tomorrow.”
The mask distribution will coincide with the start of a media blitz to persuade people to wear the masks and frequently wash their hands, as these are the most effective means to stave off COVID-19, he said.
State authorities six weeks ago allowed many businesses that had been ordered closed in March to reopen and permitted others to expand occupancy and business hours. The increased movement of people and the mistaken belief that the pandemic was over led to the new spike, Chihuahua Gov. Javier Corral said.
“The lesson here is the more we open the economy, the more care we should take. If we don’t, it is logical that the virus will spread faster,” he said on Wednesday. “I know there is stress, but we have to take personal responsibility” to stop the spread of the virus.