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COVID-19

What’s changed at the U.S.-Mexico border because of COVID-19?

Andy Uhler and Sabri Ben-Achour Mar 12, 2020
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A man sits on a fountain just across the street from the border crossing in Brownsville, Texas, on June 29, 2019. Sergio Flores/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

What’s changed at the U.S.-Mexico border because of COVID-19?

Andy Uhler and Sabri Ben-Achour Mar 12, 2020
A man sits on a fountain just across the street from the border crossing in Brownsville, Texas, on June 29, 2019. Sergio Flores/AFP via Getty Images
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Hundreds of thousands of people cross back and forth between the U.S. and Mexico every day for a number of reasons: maybe they have a job on one side and live on the other, maybe they have family that needs attention. You don’t think of a border crossing as a mass gathering, but it essentially is.

Marketplace’s Andy Uhler is in Brownsville, Texas, trying to figure out what’s changed at the border as a result of COVID-19. He spoke with Marketplace’s Sabri Ben-Achour about what he’s seeing. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Andy Uhler: I spent [Wednesday] hanging out at the bus stop just a few yards from the border. It’s where I ran into Juan Benevidez. He lives in Matamoros but has business partners on the Brownsville side, and he’s meeting up with them. I asked him if he was concerned about COVID-19 and he says, personally, he’s trying to make sure to wash his hands and pay attention to the news, but people in Matamoros, and the government officials, there don’t seem to be all that concerned. He says everyone is continuing to go to work, public transportation and movement of people is all the same. He says everything is the same and nobody seems all that worried about it in Mexico. And you can see that at the border, too.

Sabri Ben-Achour: So, what about people staying home and not going to work, like so many companies are doing here in the United States?

Uhler: Right. I kept asking folks at the border about that. And almost to a person, they told me that’s not an option. What’s interesting is that one woman I spoke with, Maria Guadalupe Contreras, who also lives in Matamoros and is visiting family in Brownsville, said the only people she knows who are not going to work anymore are people who are in the health care industry.

She says she has a friend who works at a health care center in Matamoros. Those are the people who have rules about not coming in. Regular people, no.

She says she knows a few people in Matamoros who are on salary, but nobody is asking them to work from home. And nobody is treating the border as a large gathering place, which it undoubtedly is. Everyone I spoke with said nobody with Customs and Border [Protection] asked how they were feeling, if they had any health concerns or anything. They just wanted to see paperwork and make sure they had a legal right to work in Brownsville.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

So what’s up with “Zoom fatigue”?

It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.

How are Americans spending their money these days?

Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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