Juarez businesses reopen, but fear of COVID-19 keeps many customers away

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Bars, casinos and stores inside malls remain closed under Mexico's "orange" threat level designation

JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) — Hundreds of businesses reopened their doors in Juarez on Monday, as the city’s COVID-19 threat level went down from “red” to “orange.”

But for all the effort some merchants put into cleaning and sprucing up the premises, few customers came through the doors and many other businesses kept the locks on as fear of COVID-19 looms large, still.

“This is a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Graciela Compean, who runs a small eatery near Downtown Juarez. “We need to pay the bills because we’re just trying to survive.”

Wiping down empty tables, Compean said she hopes that when people see that the place is clean, that she’s wearing a facemask and that the place can’t be more than half full at any time, customers will start coming in.

Graciela Compean passes time cleaning tables at her small restaurant while waiting for customers to drop by. (Roberto Delgado/Special to Border Report)

The “orange” threat level allows restaurants, most shops, manufacturing and some office buildings to reopen at 50% occupancy, said Mirna Beltran, undersecretary of health for the state of Chihuahua. Government offices are only letting in half the number of people they normally did before the pandemic.

A sign at a restaurant reminding people of the 50% occupancy limit. (photo by Roberto Delgado)

But bars, casinos and non-essential shops inside shopping centers must remain closed until the threat level goes from “orange” to “yellow,” she said. Some open-air sidewalk vendors can also go back to the streets, though it’s not clear which ones have clearance.

“It’s important to observe the rules and practice social distancing,” she said. “We don’t want a relapse (in COVID-19 cases), we don’t want to go back to red.”

Juarez’s coronavirus mortality rate remains around 20% and as of Monday, 59 out of every 100 people tested were coming back positive to the disease. However, hospital occupancy rates remain under 50% and health officials say their death rate is high because they only test people who go to hospitals. By comparison, El Paso’s mortality rate is around 2.8% and less than 8 percent of the people tested come back positive for the disease.

Other places in Mexico, like the state of Tabasco, were allowed to reopen for business two weeks ago but are now back on “red” because of a spike in infections, she said.

Many merchants are unhappy about the limitations, but there’s one group of that’s outright defiant.

Bar owners and their employees earlier this month marched to the Mexican side of the Paso del Norte international bridge in protest for the prolonged closings. On Monday, a few bar owners opened their businesses, although they only went there to do some cleaning.

A security guard takes the temperature of an employee at a Juarez bar that reopen on Monday, albeit only to do some cleaning. (photo by Roberto Delgado/Special to Border Report)

“More than 200 businesses will not open again because they couldn’t pay their workers or their leases,” said Francisco Aguirre, who owns the Evolution dance bar in southeast Juarez. On Monday, he had his employees take the bar’s chairs and tables outside and wipe them down as cars drove by.

He said bar owners are giving the government 15 more days to authorize their reopening. Otherwise, they’re threatening to start serving liquor again, anyway.

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