Mexico urging maquiladoras to close as COVID-19 cases add up in Juarez

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Most fatalities in border city involve factory employees that work in closed quarters with hundreds of other workers

JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) — COVID-19 deaths have increased nearly six-fold in the past 10 days in this Mexican border city, where authorities are having trouble getting people to stay at home.

As of Friday morning, the city had recorded 22 deaths – and 88 cases, for a 25% mortality rate. That was two additional deaths and four six more cases than Thursday. Back on April 7, Juarez only had 24 cases and four deaths. El Paso County, Texas, by contrast, has reported 451 cases and seven deaths.

Juarez Mayor Armando Cabada has said the death rate is probably inflated because more people are likely to be infected, and he called for more testing. The mayor also said he’s not satisfied with residents’ compliance rate with stay-at-home orders.

Thirteen of those who have died in Juarez were employees of U.S.-run maquiladoras, Chihuahua state officials said. The factories — which assemble parts for U.S. automakers and international electronics and medical supplies providers — employ more than 250,000 people in the city. As of last week most remained open.

Juarez, Mexico reached 22 coronavirus-related fatalities. (Graphic courtesy State of Chihuahua)

However, Alicia Herrera, the Labor Ministry’s representative in Juarez, said 64 plants have suspended operations as of Friday.

“Since April 3 we visited many businesses, inviting them to close for non-essential activities,” Herrera said in a Friday teleconference.

She estimated that 180,000 factory workers in Juarez are now idle but that 116,000 were still showing up for work at factories that stated they manufacture components for “essential” products.

But “there are apparently 28 plants that are conducting non-essential activities. Their responsibility was to close since April 1. The more workers you have, the bigger the health risk. We will be visiting (them) again to remind them of their responsibility,’ Herrera said.

The Labor Ministry is also urging those maquiladoras that manufacture essential products to cut back on non-essential activities. “You may be producing an essential product, but you should only keep open the necessary (assembly lines)” she said.

The factories could face fines or even criminal charges for exposing residents to an infectious disease, Herrera said.

She said her office has received 1,200 complaints this month from workers who either said they’re being expected to work in unsafe conditions or have been sent home without pay or with partial pay.

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