The streets are not desolate.
“You know my brother and I got it, right?” My friend Mariana texted me a few weeks ago after I posted the story about the coronavirus piñatas. Mariana’s brother, Juan, is my private doctor in Tijuana. Mariana and Juan talked to me on the condition of remaining anonymous (I’m not using their real names).
“On March 15, we celebrated a small birthday party with my brother, my son, and a few friends. Everyone that was in the car when we went home ended up positive [for COVID-19]. Fortunately, my son never had any symptoms, my brother had a bit of a fever, but that was it. The other girls in the car and I had it horrible. My symptoms started with just slight headaches and chest pains, but it increased little by little to the point I thought ‘I am going to die tonight.’ Every breath I took was empty as if I was on the surface of the moon, the air felt non-existent. The cough, headaches, and fever didn’t worry me, not being able to breath is the scary part. I went with every specialist I know. Since there is no cure, they just give you any treatment. Without complications or going to the ICU, I still felt like I was going to die for six horrifying nights. After those nights, I had a day of coughing blood and my symptoms started fading away. I’m only 33, I exercise regularly, I’m not overweight, I don’t have any pre-existing conditions and it makes me sad to see that my neighbors don’t care. They are still having their carne asada parties.”
A big brown tent is set before the entrance with a sign that reads Filtro.
Juan was one of the earlier confirmed cases by the government, the rest of the party of six in the car got tested but were never reported.
“You probably had it,” says Juan after I told him I had a very dry cough a month ago.
“April 21, Mexico was declared officially on phase 3,” says Juan. “I’m at the COVID filter outside Clinica 20 with IMSS, but what your readers need to know is the complex healthcare system we have in Mexico in the public sector. In Tijuana we have IMSS, ISSTE, and ISSTECALI, other parts of Mexico have more institutions. Each branch takes care of the different types of workers. At IMSS we take care of general workers (from factories, restaurants, etc.). But because of COVID, they mixed all the branches… Hold on, let me send you the image.”
Juan texted the following official image from the Secretary of Health in Baja:
“You see, in that image, IMSS is not included. That’s because we are still taking care of our insured workers. That’s why Bonilla (Baja’s governor) said IMSS was going to be the Achilles heel because here in Baja we have too many workers that fall under IMSS. In the tent outside Clinica 20, we check all the patients. If they have respiratory symptoms, we take them to the COVID consulting room; people without respiratory symptoms are sent home. From those who we suspect might have it, if it’s not serious and they don’t need ventilators, they get sent home. We don’t test them. There is no need to waste resources on thousands of people since we don’t even have a way to treat them. Those that have serious symptoms get hospitalized, we administer the tests, and end up reported.”
IMSS Clinica 20 is situated near Mercado de Todos, a halfway point of the city; it’s an area usually bustling with activity. The market is closed, but there was plenty of activity in the area on a Thursday afternoon. The clinic had yellow precaution tape tied poorly on a railing. A big brown tent is set before the entrance with a big sign that reads Filtro and posters depicting the heroine Susana Distancia.
Half a block away from Clinica 20, I found a stand of tacos varios. As I placed my order the taquero asked me, “para llevar?” despite having a big sign that read they only had orders to go. Confused by the question, I asked if I could eat them there. The taquero told me they only had them to go and wrapped my tacos in tin foil. Just a few feet away from the stand, a group of people sat on a planter devouring tacos on plastic plates that were not to go.
As of this writing, there are 985 confirmed cases in Baja with 31 recovered and 118 deaths due to the virus. The daily news is dominated by Corona, but there have been 115 homicides just in April for a total of 560 through 2020. A narco tunnel was also discovered in late March in the Otay region with nearly $30 million worth of drugs. The Mexican peso is plummeting, hovering near the 25-pesos-per-dollar mark. Daily reports of increasing confirmed cases of coronavirus and deaths make Tijuana the municipality with most cases in the country.
Walking around downtown Tijuana, the streets are not desolate. Activity is low, many businesses are closed, those that are open have ropes around the perimeter for a safe distance, all restaurant orders are to go. Yet people still cram themselves in public transportation; most wear masks but gloves are rare. The old ice cream truck still makes the rounds around the neighborhood, and so does the guy that sells tamales out of a cooler from his bicycle, and the beat-up car that drives around selling capirotadas.
Every other corner there are street salesmen with disposable masks, washable masks with all types of graphics, plastic guards, gloves, and antibacterial gel.
I have crossed the San Ysidro border three times since the quarantine. The wait time was minimal, and border patrol only asked me if I was going to work. The lanes have been heavily reduced but tourists are not allowed to cross until May 21. Citizens who cross the border for essential jobs report no changes in their commute.
At the border they sell facemasks. I bought six disposable masks for $10 the last time I crossed as a favor to my friend Antonio Ley who recently moved out of Tijuana to establish himself in San Diego. I caught up with him in Mission Hills to discuss the latest Tijuana news, more specifically that east of Tijuana is not following the quarantine or the social distancing rules.
“When people ask me about Corona in Tijuana, I want to show them the picture of the people eating tacos next to the dead body,” says Antonio Ley inside his food truck, Corazón de Torta. “Do you think these people are afraid of a bad cough or a fever?”
The picture Ley depicts a family eating tacos next to a dead body, photo by Gustavo Suárez from 2018 for Frontera newspaper. The further I drove away from downtown Tijuana, the more it seemed like the coronavirus was not a concern.