Border Spread: Mexico Travelers Cause COVID Concerns

Health officials have warned for months about domestic holiday travel causing coronavirus spread. But a bigger concern might be the hundreds of thousands of Mexican Americans who traditionally travel back to Mexico for Christmas every year. While the numbers for this year are not yet available, early evidence indicates many kept the tradition. "I am in El Paso, and the roads are full and international bridges are full," says Tony Payan, Director of the Center for United States and Mexico at Rice University. "So clearly people are not being prevented from traveling by the pandemic."

Payan explains why this particular type of travel is more risky for COVID-19 spread. "These people are not quarantining, they're going to be staying with their families in Mexico, interacting with other people, going to shopping malls, and so forth," he tells KTRH. "And these Mexican families tend to have lots and lots of generations living together in a single household."

Those factors, along with the higher virus numbers in communities near the border, spell a recipe for trouble when these travelers return home after the holidays. "I think some of these people may actually bring (coronavirus) to Mexico, and may also bring it from Mexico," says Payan. "So, clearly we're going to see a spike in cases."

Since last March, the U.S. and Mexico have had restrictions in place limiting cross-border travel for "non-essential" purposes, but U.S. citizens and legal residents are largely exempt from those restrictions. Payan believes both countries should have imposed stronger limitations on border travel. "But the governments decided it wasn't important to them, it wasn't a priority, and they allowed all these people to come and go as they pleased," he says. "And that, I think, is going to create a very serious problem in January."

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