Juarez reports COVID-19 outbreaks at prison, migrant shelter and shopping center

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Despite the death of one inmate, Mexican officials emphasize the spread has been limited at that and the other two sites

One inmate of the Cereso 3 state prison in Juarez has died of COVID-19 and 10 others are suspected of being asymptomatic carriers of the disease, Mexican health officials say. (photo Roberto Delgado/Special to Border Report)

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Authorities in Juarez, Mexico are reporting COVID-19 outbreaks in a shopping center, a migrant shelter and a crowded state penitentiary.

At Cereso 3 prison, medical authorities are turning a recreational area into a makeshift care center following the death of one inmate. The unnamed prisoner fell ill and was taken to a hospital where he died of COVID-19, said Dr. Arturo Valenzuela, head of the Chihuahua state Health Department in Juarez.

Eight beds and medical equipment have been placed in the rec area, as up to 10 additional inmates have tested positive for the coronavirus. Those inmates are asymptomatic and health department personnel are on the premises to investigate if there are more cases, he said.

The asymptomatic inmates are isolated and one or two others are under observation. “This has forced the (prison) to take preventive actions, but it’s a limited exposure. Not many people are involved. There has been no (widespread) dispersion,” Valenzuela said.

Border Report couldn’t immediately confirm how many inmates are held at the prison. Mexican news reports say it’s in excess of 2,000.

At the Leona Vicario federal migrant shelter, a family of three has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and is under isolation. Valenzuela said the family will probably be transferred elsewhere to minimize the risk of contagion to other migrants.

Just like at the prison, health department officials are at the shelter screening occupants for possible contagion and talking to officials at the facility to implement actions to prevent further outbreaks.

The shelter holds more than 350 Central Americans, Cubans and South Americans. It stopped taking in new arrivals in December after a measles outbreak, so it’s unknown how the migrant family caught COVID-19.

At an unnamed Juarez shopping center, an undisclosed number of employees also caught the coronavirus. Valenzuela characterized it as “the lesser” of the three outbreaks, given that foot traffic there has considerably gone down in the past two weeks due to enforcement of stay-at-home regulations in Juarez.

As of Thursday morning, that city had recorded 805 COVID-19 cases and 172 fatalities. That’s 52 more cases and seven more deaths compared to Wednesday’s count.

In the state of Chihuahua, opposite Texas and New Mexico, 1,272 cases are confirmed as are 224 deaths. Health Department Chief Epidemiologist Gumaro Barrios said nine of the dead were medical workers: three doctors, four nurses and two aides. He said an additional 150 state workers caught the coronavirus, but are now over it.

Officials in El Paso suspect Juarez has many more undiagnosed cases due to limited testing — almost all the testing is being done at government hospitals once a person comes in sick. U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, earlier this week said Juarez may have tested less than 0.5% of its population so far, compared to 2.5% in El Paso County and 5% in neighboring Doña Ana County, New Mexico.

Valenzuela himself has admitted that the state of Chihuahua may have thousands more undiagnosed, asymptomatic cases. He said Juarez authorities would address that issue on Friday.

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