Drastic actions needed on both sides of border
The San Diego-Tijuana Smart Border Coalition is a binational organization that advocates for secure and more efficient travel through the ports of entry along our region’s shared border. We believe that San Diego and Tijuana must come together immediately to confront the COVID-19 virus.
President Donald Trump, Gov. Gavin Newsom, and Mayor Kevin Faulconer have declared states of emergency for the nation, the state and the city, respectively. Tijuana is following the Mexican federal government’s lead, adhering to phase one of its contingency plan, which addresses travel-related risk only.
North of the border, social distancing practices have been prescribed, with small and large gathering cancellations and postponements, school closures and the like. It is just a matter of time before the virus spreads to Tijuana, if it has not already done so. Tijuana should take heed.
Protecting San Diego County’s public health system should be expanded to protecting public health binationally. Mexican state and federal aid will in all likelihood not be available to Tijuana as U.S. federal aid will be for San Diego. This is all the more reason to ensure that we are fighting this scourge together as a unified force.
So far, there is no evidence of a single COVID-19 case in Tijuana. However, there are close to 150,000 travelers moving through our ports every day. Do we not expect COVID-19 cases on both sides of the border? Do we want to flirt with disaster and have our ports shuttered because of a COVID-19 outbreak, or do we want to work through these difficult times together with our neighbors?
We salute the city of Tijuana’s cancellation of government-sponsored large events. However, this should be only one of many drastic measures that must be taken quickly. Mayor Arturo Gonzalez has been in conversation with the Baja California health secretariat and the U.S. consul general in Tijuana as to next steps. Though a facility has been designated to isolate infected patients, Tijuana does not have medical infrastructure to manage an impending surge in people believing they should be tested or for those with the infection. Tellingly, there are no public hand-washing stations. Given how the virus multiplies and the Mexican federal government’s lax response to a potential outbreak, we believe faster regional — border-wide — reaction is in order.
This is where business and civil society have a role to play. We were impressed and excited to hear that the Baja Medical Cluster is leading an initiative to set up pedestrian filters near ports of entry. The effort has the support of SIMNSA, a Tijuana-based state-of-the-art hospital and medical tourism pioneer. This kind of hands-on nongovernmental leadership should spearhead an effort supported by a number of key players: the state of Baja California health secretariat, Tijuana local government, business and civic associations, medical device manufacturers such as Medtronic, Becton Dickinson, and Thermo Fisher, Customs and Border Protection, the city of San Diego, county chambers of commerce and the San Diego health care industry. San Diego’s and Tijuana’s health systems can both be more resilient to manage a serious outbreak.
Unselfish and unprecedented binational collaboration to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 can make us an effective example of prevention in the border area and will have the crucial secondary consequence of contributing to keeping our borders open.
De La Fuente is the executive director of the San Diego – Tijuana Smart Border Coalition. Williams is a founding principal at SENTRE. Larroque is an attorney with Baker & McKenzie in Baja California, Mexico and San Diego. Williams and Larroque are co-chairs of the coalition’s Board of Directors.