EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – The Mexican border state of Chihuahua has shut down in-person classes at all public and private schools as it deals with the latest spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths.

Juarez has recorded 46 coronavirus fatalities in the past 12 days and health officials fear indoor gatherings – such as dozens of students being locked up in a room for several hours – may worsen the spread. Juarez last week went over 4,000 coronavirus-related deaths, measured since the pandemic began.

Three border states have the highest number of active cases in Mexico: Baja California, Sonora and Chihuahua. The latter’s hospital occupancy rates went up to 54 percent over the weekend, with 55 patients on ventilators.

Dr. Leticia Ruiz

“We have seen a constant increase in cases across all age groups,” said Dr. Leticia Ruiz, head of preventive medicine for the state Health Department. “Deaths are still occurring mostly among those 60 and over.”

The latest spike comes despite claims of vaccination rates higher than 80 percent among those 18 and over.

“We encourage everyone to observe preventive methods – wearing masks, social distancing, frequent handwashing – regardless of what vaccine you have received,” Ruiz said.

COVID-19 cases also are on the rise in El Paso, Texas, in December. The city on Monday reported 414 coronavirus patients in hospitals, including 114 in intensive care and 67 on ventilators.

El Paso has recorded 2,927 coronavirus fatalities. Combined with Juarez’s 4,013 deaths, the two cities are now 60 shy of 7,000 since the pandemic began.