MEXICALI, Baja California, Mexico (Border Report) — Starting Thursday, anyone heading into Mexico through Mexicali’s ports of entry is likely looking at lengthy border waits.
Officials have ordered COVID-19 checkpoints for southbound motorists from the U.S. to make sure people have face coverings, don’t show a fever, and are traveling for essential reasons.
Mexicali is a city of about 1 million people and is the capital of Baja California. It’s just south of Calexico, Calif., about 120 miles east of San Diego.
Calexico Police Chief Gonzalo Gerardo said the health checks have created traffic back-ups of up to seven hours on the north side of the border. The 4th of July travel period is expected to make matters worse.
With a recent upswing in COVID-19 cases in California, especially in Imperial County just north of Mexicali, there is fear American tourists will bring the virus with them, generating more cases in Mexico.
Imperial County, with a population of about 180,000, has had about 6,200 cases among 30,700 people tested, a positive rate of about 20%. The caseload is 40 times greater per capita than Los Angeles County.
The screenings will be in effect through the 4th of July weekend, a time when many Americans, including Imperial County residents, head to Mexico for fun and relaxation.
As for Tijuana, a much bigger city to the west, which traditionally experiences a large tourist influx from California during holiday weekends, it’s not instituting similar screenings.
“It’s a very restrictive measure that has created really long lines in other cities and has been bad for residents. We’re taking a different approach on our side,” Tijuana Mayor Arturo Gonzalez said.
However, Gonzalez expressed some concern with his city’s approach with tourists.
“We’re worried about tourism, people heading here and whether we’re taking appropriate sanitary measures and following protocol in all businesses so that we don’t see any more infections,” he said. “Tijuana is doing find now, we’re looking at a downward trend in cases, we’re at a point where we are grateful to residents, but we have to continue with efforts to open up other areas, which our city badly needs.”