The number of new COVID-19 cases in El Paso this past week dropped for the first time in two months but remains alarmingly high. The coming days and weeks will be among the most painful in El Paso’s history, even if the decline in new cases persists. Hospitals continue to be overwhelmed, and the novel coronavirus is killing El Pasoans at a heartbreaking rate that will only grow worse between now and the end of the year. Here’s the weekly COVID-19 data report from El Paso Matters. Deaths
El Pasoans are dying of COVID-19 at rates that were previously unimaginable, though it’s challenging to get precise data.
Esther Huerta has lived with a kidney transplant for 17 years and has to take medication for the rest of her life to ensure her body does not reject the organ. Huerta says the medicine is too costly to buy in the U.S. so she crosses the border to Ciudad Juarez every month. Huerta takes Sirulimus and Mycophenolic Acid to prevent rejection of her kidney transplant. Her medicine costs approximately $600 in Juarez, in comparison to almost $1,000 in the United States. Pharmacy tourism is the act of going to a different country to obtain medication due to lack of insurance, lower cost, and easier access.
El Paso’s public libraries go beyond feeding the mind with books and videos. The libraries also offer an inventory of free seeds to residents to encourage them to grow their own edible gardens. The seed libraries include non-genetically modified fruits, vegetables and herb seeds to give El Pasoans easy access to nutritious food, especially in lower-income communities. “We wanted to help El Paso become more food sufficient and self-sufficient in terms of growing and eating their own food. So, we wanted people to start urban gardens and to start living healthier lives and eating healthier through their own means,” said Jack Galindo, marketing and customer relations coordinator for the El Paso Public Library.
The University of Texas at El Paso began the fall 2021 semester with a 3.5% drop in enrollment from the previous year. Still, more than 24,000 students returned to campus, even while many worried about the possibility of contracting COVID-19. “That’s the only thing I’m scared of,” Analaura Castillo said
Castillo is a UTEP industrial engineering major. She has personal reasons to be concerned. “I have the vaccine, but I have a younger sister so she’s not able to get it,” Castillo said.
American residents and citizens who live in Ciudad Juárez are taking advantage of their status to cross to the United States and be vaccinated. But the health authorities in El Paso are not keeping records of people from Ciudad Juárez who have benefitted from this.
Health authorities in the Mexican state of Chihuahua said it is hard to determine the exact number of residents in Ciudad Juárez who have been vaccinated in El Paso since a large percentage of the population has dual nationality, Mexican and American.
Elaine Gordon Wilson and her fiance Kevin opted for a church ceremony with a virtual audience. Angel Iturbe and his fiance chose an outdoor event with safety rules for guests. Both tell the stories of how their plans to get married survived all the challenges the pandemic threw at them. https://soundcloud.com/borderzine-reporting-across-fronteras/a-tale-of-two-pandemic-weddings
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way many of us interact now. For one group, the changes in social dynamics come at a critical time in their lives as they navigate early adulthood. Amid managing socially distant lifestyles, 20-somethings are seeing shifts in their relationships – with some drifting apart and others dissolving completely. “I did lose a handful of friends this year. But now that I look back on it I don’t know if they were really my friends or just acquaintances,” said El Pasoan Brittney Tambeau, 25.
Delta-8 – a legal compound similar to THC from cannabis – has arrived in the Borderland and one CBD shop owner says its popularity is sure to rise among El Paso-area residents seeking to explore its medicinal qualities. May Leach, owner of Whole Health CBD, says the compound is thought to relieve pain, emotional unrest and produce a slight sense of euphoria. It is marketed in different form such as oils, lotions and even edibles. And unlike marijuana, it is legal in Texas, Leach said. Like CBD, short for cannabidoil, Delta-8 comes from the hemp plant and is legal in the Lone Star state after Texas Bill 1325 legalized hemp products in 2019.
San Felipe de Jesús parish is one of the many churches that re-opened its doors to the public in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico at the end of January. About 35 people came to the church to celebrate Mass, all respecting social distancing guidelines and wearing masks. In an attempt to mitigate the spread of Covid-19, the state government of Chihuahua suspended all public religious services in September, the second time since the start of the pandemic last spring. Chihuahua’s restrictions are based on a street-light-inspired system defined by specific indicators, such as hospital bed capacity. When the state transitioned to the color yellow in January, churches were allowed to reopen to the public at 30% capacity and limited to a maximum of 100 people.
By Francisco Gallegos, Wake Forest University and Carlos Alberto Sánchez, San José State University
Ever had the feeling that you can’t make sense of what’s happening? One moment everything seems normal, then suddenly the frame shifts to reveal a world on fire, struggling with pandemic, recession, climate change and political upheaval. That’s “zozobra,” the peculiar form of anxiety that comes from being unable to settle into a single point of view, leaving you with questions like: Is it a lovely autumn day, or an alarming moment of converging historical catastrophes? As scholars of this phenomenon, we have noted how zozobra has spread in U.S. society in recent years, and we believe the insight of Mexican philosophers can be helpful to Americans during these tumultuous times. Ever since the conquest and colonization of the valley of Mexico by Hernán Cortés, Mexicans have had to cope with wave after wave of profound social and spiritual disruption – wars, rebellions, revolution, corruption, dictatorship and now the threat of becoming a narco-state.
Ana Maria, 74, and Jose Becerra, 80, are a high-risk couple living in El Paso. The two have illnesses that weaken their immune system and make them fearful of contracting COVID-19. After a recent surgery Ana Maria Becerra, who is my grandmother, socially distanced herself in her home to protect my grandfather from anything she may have contracted during her time at the hospital. This photo essay captures moments of their lives on a recent Saturday, nearly at the end of the two week at-home social distancing period. Married for 51 years, they struggled to stay six feet apart, manage day-to-day tasks and outwait the loneliness.
Nurses have been at the center of the COVID-19 health crisis helping those who are severely ill, coping with a shortage of personal protective equipment, and in some cases getting sick themselves. Borderzine reporter Gabe Montellano began interviewing Mario Murillo, an El Paso nurse, back in March for a story about Latinos in nursing. And then the pandemic happened. Here’s Murillo’s experience of working on the frontlines before and after he himself contracted COVID-19. This conversation originally aired on our partner public radio station KTEP.
El Paso – Churches across El Paso have had to adapt and become creative during the COVID-19 pandemic by providing prayer assistance on the phone, food drives and online religious services. Mayor Dee Margo announced a “Stay Home, Work Safe” order on March 24th requiring residents to only venture out for essential tasks including grocery shopping, a medical emergency and caring for family. “You know we always say in the Catholic faith that the church isn’t the building but the church is all of us together. We are all the church and if we can’t come together, we can’t come together as church,” said Fernie Ceniceros, the Public Information communications director for the Catholic Diocese of El Paso. “We wanted to make it clear to our people that that just because we’ve suspended or we’ve not allowed people to come to the public celebration of Mass – like most other diocese’s in the country – we wanted people to know that we we are celebrating Mass that’s something that’s that we felt was very critical” Ceniceros said.
When El Paso ordered residents to stay home in March amid the coronavirus outbreak I was upset that I had to cancel my trip to Mexico City. It took me a while to take the pandemic seriously. I was still willing to travel, but thankfully my flight got canceled. Now, weeks later, my mindset is different. I now get that this is something serious.
Many Americans may find bare grocery store shelves the most worrying sign of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their food system. But, for the most part, shortages of shelf-stable items like pasta, canned beans and peanut butter are temporary because the U.S. continues to produce enough food to meet demand – even if it sometimes takes a day or two to catch up. To keep up that pace, the food system depends on several million seasonal agricultural workers, many of whom are undocumented immigrants from Mexico and other countries. These laborers pick grapes in California, tend dairy cows in Wisconsin and rake blueberries in Maine. As a sociologist who studies agricultural issues, including farm labor, I believe that these workers face particular risks during the current pandemic that, if unaddressed, threaten keeping those grocery store shelves well stocked.
The Trejo family has been careful about handwashing and using hand-sanitizer to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, but when it came time to part ways near the Paso del Norte international bridge, they hugged each other. “As we were hugging, I thought, ‘Oh no, we should have given each other a little elbow tap,’” said Blanca Trejo, the 65-year-old grandmother and matriarch of the family. Her 15-year-old granddaughter Ruby Lerma Trejo said she tried not to hug too tightly but said of keeping her distance with family, “oh that’s hard.” Her grandmother, aunt and young cousins were headed back to Ciudad Juárez. She and her mother and sisters were going back to Horizon City. The Trejo family said goodbye after a recent visit as part of the family headed to Horizon City and the rest stayed in Ciudad Juárez.
African Americans and Latinos face barriers that prevent many from seeking mental health treatment and often rely on more informal networks for support. “The number one barrier I would say centers around the stigma of mental health,” said Dr. Patrie Williams, a clinical psychologist with the El Paso Veteran’s Affairs healthcare system. “I think it’s both historically and culturally.” Instead of seeking professional help some African Americans and Latinos look elsewhere for counseling. “Therapists were not always people who had degrees.
By Derek M. Griffith, Vanderbilt University and Elizabeth C. Stewart, Vanderbilt University
If you had to choose, which would you rather have: a healthy father or a good father? Studies suggest men often choose being a good father over being healthy. Becoming a father is a major milestone in the life of a man, often shifting the way he thinks from being “me focused” to “we focused.” But fatherhood can also shift how men perceive their health. Our research has found that fathers can view health not in terms of going to the doctor or eating vegetables but how they hold a job, provide for their family, protect and teach their children, and belong to a community or social network. As founder and director of the Center for Research on Men’s Health at Vanderbilt University and as a postdoctoral fellow from Meharry Medical College, we study why men live shorter lives than women, male attitudes about fatherhood, how to help men engage in healthier behavior – as well as what can be done to reduce men’s risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
There are many perils for humans and wildlife crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, from the hazards of navigating challenging terrain to the trauma of being detained by law enforcement. As tensions rise with each newly erected section of border wall, the impact of hardline policies can be seen taking a toll on the mental, physical, and environmental health of the borderland. Rising waters threaten migrants crossing Rio Grande
Risks to migrants crossing into the U.S. near El Paso have increased with the annual release of Rio Grande water from upriver in New Mexico. The release replenishes the borderlands and allows its farmers to irrigate, but the surge of water and migrants is a potentially deadly combination. Migrants who bypass barriers at U.S. ports of entry to seek asylum by crossing the Rio Grande risk drowning in the high water of the borderland canals.
As the measles outbreaks spread, many people are growing concerned. New York City declared a public health emergency and mandated vaccinations in four ZIP codes where vaccination rates have been low. A Israeli flight attendant is in a coma from being infected with the highly contagious disease. As a professor who teaches courses in immunology, microbiology and vaccine public policy, I research the fundamental processes of how our bodies respond to infections and vaccines to generate protective immunity. In my teaching, I work with students to develop an understanding of the complexity of these issues and encourage them to engage in the public discourse on these topics from balanced and informed perspective.
El Pasoan Ventura Villasenor grew up in the aftermath of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s where he lost friends and family members due to HIV complications, but there are now a preventive treatments that give people a chance they didn’t have when the crisis began. “I think it’s a great opportunity for the gay community, in reality, for anybody who is at high risk of becoming HIV-positive to take advantage of the clinic, of the features that they offer, because they do not only offer HIV testing, they do all types of screenings,” said Villasenor, 39. A clinic to treat and prevent HIV opened on El Paso’s East Side by Centro San Vicente in the summer of 2018. Villasenor is a patient at the clinic. El Paso is among the Top 10 counties with HIV cases, according to the Texas HIV Surveillance annual report.
El Paso has a significantly higher rate of Alzheimer’s diagnosis’ than the national average, and Latinos in general have higher rates of risk factors for the disease. Yet limited access to prevention services and medical care may make Borderlanders more likely to delay treatment and receive inadequate health care treatment for dementia issues. In 2015, according the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, 12.4% of El Paso county residents over the age of 65 had some form of dementia. Hispanics in general are 1.5 times more likely to contract Alzheimers than non-Hispanic whites, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. This might be connected to Hispanics having higher rates of risk factors such as obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and cardiovascular risk, according to a 2016 report by the USC Edward R. Roybal Institute on Aging.
E-cigarettes that look like USB flash drives are making it harder for adults to crack down on their illegal use among minors – even in school hallways. Shacel De La Vega, a 2018 graduate of Coronado High School in El Paso, said it wasn’t hard to get a nicotine boost almost any time on campus using Juuls, slim vaping devices that are the size of a data stick. “Other than just letting us know that it was not allowed, there wasn’t really any sort of system that they had set up to stop us from using it,” De La Vega said. While still in school, De La Vega missed the optional presentation educators gave to students about vaping. Students were told that underage possession of tobacco products is against the law and the school would be cracking down on campus use.
Sexually transmitted disease rates in El Paso spiked to record highs in recent years, according to public health department data. The El Paso Department of Public Health reported a 10-year high of 7,681 new cases of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in 2017 – an 11 percent increase from 2016 and a 62 percent increase from 2007. “Nationwide it’s on the rise. STDs, the whole nine yards, the gonorrhea, the syphilis, the chlamydia, this is not unique for El Paso,” said Faduma Shegow, clinic services manager for the STD clinic of El Paso. “It’s happening nationwide.”
EL PASO, Texas – When classical musicians perform in local hospitals, both the players and the patients find it to be good medicine. “It’s about being a healer, because the music is designed to soothe and heal and when you see that there is a change in the status of their health,” said Felipa Solis, Executive Director of El Paso Pro Musica. Performers with Pro Musica are going beyond the concert hall to bring classical music to the people, which UTEP masters cellos performance major Amy Miller said helps her as a musician to build a connection her audience. “I think that playing for people is very important because, you know, you’re in a practice room for hours at a time and you’re playing for yourself but when you have that time to share with someone else and connect with them in that way,” she said “You know, music is an unspoken language, it’s universal.” Solis said that playing music for hospital patients is an extension of the groups’ mission to make classical music accessible to all.
El Paso – Nearly 20 percent of high school students in Texas are considered obese and the state ranks fifth in the U.S. for high school students who are obese, according to the website The State of Obesity. At the same time, Hispanic children in Texas have the highest rate of childhood obesity, or 21.9 percent, followed by non-Hispanic blacks with a rate of 19.5 percent and non-Hispanic whites with a childhood obesity rate of 14.7 percent, according to the Texas Medical Association. Obesity among the youth ages 10-17 accumulated a total of 18.5 percent within the state. And, for the Paso Del Norte region, almost 40 percent of residents between the ages of 18 and 29 are considered obese, and one in three of all El Pasoans are considered obese or overweight. Reasons for obesity in teens range from personal behaviors including eating habits and physical activity to genetics, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For cancer patients living in the El Paso-Ciudad Juarez metroplex, treatment is not just expensive, costing thousands of dollars for the uninsured, but also difficult to find. Although El Paso has two oncology centers and a few independent oncologists, according to the non profit cancer support group Junt@s Vamos, services such as Pet scans, radiation treatment and chemotherapy are not easily available in neighboring Ciudad Juarez, a border city of almost 1.5 million residents.Launched in 2013 by Juarez resident Cristina Coronado, Junt@s Vamos aims to provide a safe space for people with cancer to talk about their illness and receive emotional support. The group also aims to inform patients of their rights and treatments they can seek elsewhere.There are four core members of the group, but the community involvement extends beyond them. Every fundraiser event consistently draws about 15 volunteers. Aside from the core members, Junt@s Vamos also has eight permanent volunteers.The health information sessions they hold in Ciudad Juarez throughout the year usually draw 200 people suffering from cancer.
En Cd. Juárez Chihuahua, el grupo de “Doctores de la Risa Nariz a la Orden” se caracteriza por brindar sonrisas y ratos agradables a personas vulnerables como niños y ancianos. El encargado del grupo Fernando Guijarro, 43, conocido como el Dr. Maromas, quien dice que encontró el grupo por casualidad, lleva más de ocho años formando parte de esta labor y al mismo tiempo ejerciendo la profesión de contaduría. “Cuando uno no está buscando algo y se lo encuentra pues piensa uno que es algo divino. Yo encontré este grupo después de pasar por muchos momentos difíciles de inseguridad aquí en Cd.
An estimated one in four adults suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year, according to El Paso mental health provider Emergence Health Network, which also runs a crisis hotline. Also, says EHN, 90 percent of people who die by suicide are also believed to have had a mental disorder. However, either because of fear or lack of information only 60 percent of those suffering from a mental health condition seeks treatment. One helpful resource EHN provides to the community is its 24-hour Crisis Hotline, which consists of of qualified mental health professionals, as well as on-call professionals who are available to the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Crisis Line specialists are prepared through education and training to assist distressed callers in verbal de-escalation of any situation.
The El Paso Fire Department is promoting community wellness through its Vaccinations for Health program to fight the flu. The department sponsored seven events this spring, extending additional dates due to the high demand for vaccinations, officials said. Last month, five events were open to the public at the Safety & Health Outreach Center, in Central El Paso. The Vaccinations for Health program is a collaboration between the El Paso Fire Department and the El Paso Department of Public Health, according to the company’s mission statement. “We started the outreach in actual clinics in October 2014, but three years before that, there was a lot of administrative work, getting the money, outlining how the program was going to be delivered,” said El Paso Fire Department Deputy Chief Robert Arvizu.