Several friends and supporters have asked us in recent days how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting Mexico and our community in Northern Baja, specifically. So we have answered a few of the most common questions below. As is the case everywhere, the crisis is fluid and changing daily. We will use this blog to continually update our supporters about the situation for our ministry and our patients.
Are there COVID-19 cases in your community (La Mision)?
While we have not been able to confirm positive cases through testing (see below), we think it is likely that there are COVID-19 cases in our community. We know of several individuals and patients who have experienced flu-like symptoms consistent with the coronavirus. Tijuana, only 40 miles from La Mision, is reporting Mexico’s second largest outbreak and its hospitals are under severe pressure. So it seems likely that there is (or will be) local spread of the virus.
Are you under lock down?
Yes, the state of Baja California is under similar restrictions to the United States and other countries. Schools, restaurants, and many businesses are closed. Most people are being asked to “shelter in place” in their homes. The government has established check points in various places to encourage compliance. The lock down measures are in place until May 31.
Is the border closed?
Border crossings in both directions are restricted to “essential traffic.” In practice, this amounts to stopping tourism and recreational travel. It is still possible to cross the border in both directions for business purposes such as banking and receiving mail. The border restrictions are in place until at least May 19.
Is Mexico experiencing widespread infections?
Mexico’s infection curve appears to be about three weeks behind the United States. The Mexican government was slow to respond to the pandemic, but has mobilized quickly in recent weeks. The government has said that it expects COVID-19 cases to peak during the first week of May. Although there are far fewer cases reported in Mexico than the U.S. (8.261 as of April 20), the number is climbing quickly. The case fatality rate is also significantly higher than the U.S. (8.3%)–indicating that the virus is more widespread than testing data would suggest. Government officials estimated last week that there are actually more than 55,000 cases in Mexico. Perhaps of greatest concern for Mexico is the large number of healthcare workers that have been infected due to a severe shortage of personal protective equipment.
Is COVID-19 testing widely available?
No. Mexico has one of the lowest testing rates in the world, having administered only 49,000 tests nationwide as of April 20. While officials have pledged to increase testing availability, it would be difficult for a member of our community to access testing without driving to a COVID clinic in Tijuana. Those clinics are severely overstretched, and we would never recommend that anyone try to get tested unless they were in critical condition. The reality is that we must assume local transmission is happening but we can’t readily confirm that through testing at this time.
What is the economic impact in Baja?
The pandemic and lock down are beginning to have a significant impact on our local economy. With all tourism and most commerce halted, many of our patients have lost their jobs or had their hours greatly reduced. Ultimately, economic hardship may pose a bigger threat to our community than the virus itself. Siloé has mobilized to meet acute needs and help provide food for needy families–see our previous post for more information about how you can get involved and help!