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Border towns struggling with virus surge

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A man in Texas waits for a bus to take him across the border to Mexico. Travel and commerce are down in the area.

A man in Texas waits for a bus to take him across the border to Mexico. Travel and commerce are down in the area. Paul Ratje/AFP via Getty Images

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Federico Schaffler lives in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, but drives across the border to Laredo, Texas, for work every day. 

He just got word that there’s a curfew at home right now, and people can get fined if they don’t wear a face mask while driving.

“On the U.S. side, I haven’t heard beyond that if you’re by yourself in your car, you probably can have your mask down, but if you have two or three people, then you have to have your mask on,” he said.

Schaffler is the director of the Texas Center for Border Economic and Enterprise Development at Texas A&M International University in Laredo.

He said cross-border shopping is a lifeblood for the area. 

In normal times, the southern border of the United States is very fluid. People live and work on both sides, and many travel back and forth every day. But people who want to cross just to buy stuff aren’t allowed to do that right now.

In the U.S., different rules from cities, counties, states and the feds have made controlling the coronavirus pandemic difficult. In border towns, there’s also direction from two countries.

“The pedestrian bridge is reduced by 60, 70%. Vehicular traffic, noncommercial assets, reduced by easily 30, 40, 50%,” Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz said.

According to Saenz, eight people died of the coronavirus in Laredo hospitals Thursday, a record for the city. 

He said the state allowed businesses to open too soon.

“What happened is we lowered our guard here, and people started not using their masks,” he said.

Schaffler said navigating this time isn’t going to be easy for a lot of businesses.

“I really don’t know what’s gonna happen, but I think it’s going to change a lot of things.”

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