Forced non-essential business closures by the state coupled with federal travel restrictions on the U.S.-Mexico border all but turned downtown Calexico into a ghost town March 24. City officials say they've never seen anything like this before, and they expect the results to be "disastrous" to the city's economy. | CORISSA IBARRA PHOTO
MEXICALI — Although Mexicali officials have stepped up efforts to warn its 1 million-plus residents of the growing COVID-19 crisis, including enacting checkpoints, Imperial County officials don’t believe the new measures will affect our region any more than what has already occurred.
“Since there is already a reduction in traffic, I
don’t see it (the checkpoints) affecting us more. However, if the virus goes
out of control in Mexicali, there is a potential of a complete border shut
down,” Calexico City Manager David Dale said March 31.
“It seems that the federal administration (United
States) is ready to shut down the border if the virus gets out of control in
Mexicali, and we don’t want that for obvious reasons,” Dale added.
The mandatory closure of nonessential businesses in California
by Gov. Gavin Newsom that started March 20 and the decision by the Trump
administration to institute travel restrictions into the U.S. from Mexico that
same day was expected to have dramatically “disastrous” and “devastating” economic
effects on Calexico and greater Imperial County, Dale said during an earlier
interview with this newspaper.
Published reports estimate travel along the
U.S.-Mexico border since March 21 has been reduced by some 70 percent,
according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
County officials have agreed on the economic burden to
this area, but they have also agreed with another point made by Dale, and that
is the social distancing and stay-at-home orders meant to limit the spread of
COVID is essential to the health and welfare of Imperial County residents.
“At this point, the border is restricted for
non-resident aliens unless they have an essential need to cross the border. The
shopping has been significantly reduced on this side of the border, but it is
all for a good reason, to prevent the spread of the virus,” Calexico-area
Imperial County District 1 Supervisor Jesus Escobar said March 31.
Mexicali is home to 1.033 million residents.
“I don’t think that (Mexicali officials’) announcement
will add or subtract to the economic impact that our community has already
sustained from the COVID-19 virus,” Imperial County Board of Supervisors
Chairman Luis Plancarte said March 31.
What’s Happening in Mexicali
In a letter addressed to the public and shared with
local officials, which was signed by Mexicali Mayor Marina Del Pilar Avila
Olmeda on March 30, the daily checkpoints will continue until further notice.
In the letter, residents were told they would be contacted
during the city-wide checkpoints from 6 to 10 p.m., given a mask, literature
warning of the virus and advising them to limit exposure by means of social
distancing and avoiding gathering in public places and restricting movement to
essential places of work and business. The letter also warned of nonessential
travel through the port of San Felipe.
Luis Cueva is a fitness instructor in Mexicali who
cannot commute across the border to teach fitness classes in El Centro because
of the current restrictions to non-essential travel.
Aware of the recent announcement made by officials in
Mexicali, Cueva told this newspaper he has planned ahead to avoid traffic
congestion on his commute during hours when checkpoints would be open.
“I drove to my girlfriend’s house at 8 p.m. Monday
evening (March 30) when the checkpoints were supposed to be in place. I drove
through smaller streets instead of main streets to avoid the checkpoints,” he
“Usually these side streets are empty, and yesterday I
could see lines of cars throughout the side streets. At that time, I also I saw
the parking lot for a La Ley Supermercado was extremely full,” Cueva added.
Cueva offered a cultural insight from his point of
“A ‘Toque ve queda’ is an issue or warning from the
government which you are supposed to respect that states you should not go out
to social places. Like when you tell children they cannot go outside, they want
to go outside. I think this is what is happening to a lot of people,” he added.
Conditions in Mexico By Comparison
As of the morning of April 2, the Baja California
state government’s COVID-19 tracking page revealed 28 positive confirmed cases
have come out of Mexicali, including 38 cases pending test results and 111
negative tests. Two people in Mexicali have died from COVID, according to the
Baja state has reported 43 positive cases total and 1,378
cases for the country of Mexico, as of April 1. Some 37 deaths caused by COVID
have been reported in Mexico as of April 1.
By comparison, Imperial County has 43 positive COVID
cases confirmed by the Imperial County Public Health Department as of April 1.
California had 8,155 cases and the U.S. overall had 186,101 cases as of April 1. Some 3,603 people have
died in the U.S.
In 2014 Imperial County saw 18.6 million people
traveling into Imperial County from Mexicali through the Calexico area ports of
entry, according to a 2017 Imperial Valley Border Economic Impact Study.
An average of 51,100 border-crossers entered the
county each day during the study period, with 32,300 people entering Calexico
daily through the downtown port alone.
Mexicali residents were believed to have spent some
$380 million in Imperial County in 2016, accounting for 20 percent of all
retail, food and drink sales in the county that year (of $1.93 billion total),
according to the study.
More from Imperial County
“I think it’s a good thing for the city of Mexicali to
increase the public’s awareness of the issue and we wish the best for our
sister city in Mexicali,” Calexico City Manager Dale said.
Added Supervisor Escobar: “The increased restrictions
in Mexicali are similar to the ones the Gov. Gavin Newsom placed in California
several weeks ago. The checkpoints in Mexicali were instituted to make sure
people follow the rules as much as possible.”
“The municipal government (in Mexicali) is taking a
proactive step and they are taking action to reach out to the community in
additional ways to people that may not be reached by social media or standard
media sources,” Chairman Plancarte further explained.
For Imperial County’s end, Dale added, “We are
following the governor’s mandate at this point. Clearly it is in the city’s and
everyone’s best interest if all businesses are open, but people’s health is the
mandate right now.”