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11 Juárez maquiladora workers have died of COVID-19, officials say

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Chihuahua State health authorities confirmed 11 of the 16 confirmed COVID-19 deaths in Ciudad Juárez  are maquiladora factory workers.

“We are in constant communication with the maquiladora industry,” said said Dr. Arturo Valenzuela, Chihuahua state health authority for the northern zone which includes Ciudad Juárez.  Valenzuela said the goal is to prevent “explosive outbreaks” of COVID-19 cases.

“Several” of the deaths were employees at a Lear plant in Ciudad Juárez  that makes auto parts, according to a statement from the company.

“We are saddened that several employees at our Juárez  operations, who were receiving medical treatment for presumed cases of COVID-19, have passed away, officially due to complications of respiratory illness,” according to the statement.

Lear said Mexico’s Social Security hospital notified the company of the deaths.  The Michigan-based company declined to give the exact number of employees who died. 

What Lear is doing

Lear said it is providing support, medical care and grief counseling to the employees’ families and coworkers.  The company has operations in multiple countries and makes auto parts, including seating, in Juárez . Lear said it followed the emergency orders issued by Mexican authorities and “stopped production at all sites” several weeks ago.

Before that, the company said it took “comprehensive steps to protect our employees and local communities, including more frequently cleaning often-touched surfaces, implementing social distancing practices, providing employees with self-health training and following guidelines set by the World Health Organization,” according to the company’s statement.

Tania Reyes, director of Colectiva Arte y Equidad, a nonprofit organization that advocates for women working in Ciudad Juárez factories, said she is worried about the workers not getting a full paycheck because they were sent home and others who remain on the job without adequate hand sanitizer, gloves or other safety measures. 

“This is uncalled for. They needed to have responded much quicker. They need to think of their employees’ health a lot more,” Reyes said.

Chihuahua Gov. Javier Corral cancelled public events, issued a stay home order and recommended all but essential businesses shut down on March 23. 

What lies ahead for maquiladoras

Valenzuela said most companies have closed and only those doing “essential” work are operating.  “If they have a suspected or positive case, the state health secretary has issued a recommendation to close to prevent more cases,” he said. 

If Mexico enters a more advanced stage of contagion, “the majority of companies with large numbers of employees would have to close completely,” according to Valenzuela. Before COVID-19 hit, more than 275,000 people were employed in Juárez maquiladoras, the backbone of the city’s economy.

He warned that both maquiladoras and migrant shelters in Ciudad Juárez  could be hotspots for spreading the virus. 

“They are opportunities for rapid transmission and explosive outbreaks of COVID-19,” he said.

Cover photo: Mexico’s Social Security Institute Hospital in Ciudad Juárez is treating multiple COVID-19 patients.  Eleven maquiladora factory workers have died of COVID-19 complications. (Photo by Valeria Olivares)

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Angela Kocherga

Angela Kocherga is multimedia editor for El Paso Matters. She has dedicated her career as a journalist to reporting stories on both sides of the border for readers, viewers and public radio listeners. She previously served as Mexico City and Border Bureau Chief for a group of television stations. She also serves as news director at public radio KTEP. You can listen to stories by her on air at 88.5 FM and online at KTEP.org.

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