People not wearing face masks in Nuevo León will be subject to arrest as of Sunday, the state health minister said Wednesday as hospitals in northern Mexico fill up with an influx of coronavirus patients.
Manuel de la O Cavazos said that people not wearing face masks in Nuevo León could be arrested and detained for 36 hours.
Authorities could also fine mask scofflaws or make them perform community service, the health minister said.
“We have to be stricter, … we have to use face masks,” he said.
His warning that penalties will be imposed on people who refuse to cover their faces in public came the same day as President López Obrador said that enforcing coronavirus measures with punishment or curfews is unnecessary because Mexicans are “obedient, responsible and sensible.”
De la O Cavazos also said that municipal and state police will be authorized to break up gatherings of 20 or more people at homes, party halls and other venues. Attendees could be arrested and detained for 36 hours and face hefty fines, he said.
“The objective is … not to collect economic resources, the objective is to look after [people’s] health,” the health minister said.
Nuevo León currently has the third highest number of active cases among Mexico’s 32 states, according to federal Health Ministry estimates. Only Mexico City and México state, with 12,727 and 3,730 estimated active cases, respectively, have a higher tally than the northern border state, where 3,505 people are currently estimated to have symptoms.
As of Wednesday just under 1,300 Covid-19 patients were hospitalized in Nuevo León, according to the state government.
The risk of coronavirus infection in the state is currently orange light “high,” according to the federal government’s stoplight system, but de la O Cavazos said earlier this week that the state should be “intense red.”
Hospitals filling in Chihuahua
In the only state that is currently red – Chihuahua – hospitals in Ciudad Juárez, Delicias and Nuevo Casas Grandes have recently filled up with Covid-19 patients.
Eighteen of 25 Covid-designated hospitals in the northern border state are more than 50% full and 10 have reached occupancy levels of 80% or higher, according to the Chihuahua government.
Federal health authorities announced Tuesday that the state’s capacity to treat Covid-19 patients will be increased in light of the growing number of hospitalizations.
Health Ministry Director of Epidemiology José Luis Alomía said that additional medical personnel are being deployed in Chihuahua and that extra medical equipment and supplies, including 50 ventilators, have been sent to the state.
Chihuahua currently has an estimated 2,467 active coronavirus cases and there were more than 800 patients in the hospital on Tuesday including 155 on ventilators, according to state authorities.
The state has recorded 17,271 confirmed cases since the beginning of the pandemic, the 19th highest tally among the 32 states, and 1,839 Covid-19 deaths.
Durango hospitals risk being overwhelmed
Hospitals in neighboring Durango are also under intense pressure.
The president of the Medical College of Durango told the newspaper Reforma that many hospitals are at risk of being overwhelmed.
“Due to the number of cases we’re having – yesterday [Tuesday] we had 363 new confirmed cases – the Covid areas of the hospitals are practically at 100% [capacity],” Nora Covarrubias Torres said.
“If we have 100% occupancy and we continue to have an elevated number of [new] cases it’s logical that the health system will collapse, it’s [already] on the verge of collapsing.”
Covarrubias, an anesthetist, said that doctors including orthopedists, pediatricians and gynecologists are treating Covid-19 patients due to a shortage of specialized personnel.
“We’re all exhausted … but with the desire to keep working,” she added.
Covarrubias said that while doctors are working to save the lives of people sick with Covid-19, many residents of Durango are not taking the necessary precautions to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
“There’s a feeling that we’re not in the fight at the same level; we’re here trying to take care of a population that doesn’t want to take care of itself,” she said.
Durango currently has an estimated 2,309 active coronavirus cases, the seventh highest tally in the country, and has officially recorded 775 Covid-19 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.
The northern state is currently orange on the federal coronavirus map but health promotion chief Ricardo Cortés warned last week that it will turn red if its coronavirus outbreak doesn’t decline. He issued the same warning for Nuevo León and Coahuila.
Deaths spike in Sonora
In Sonora, there is plenty of space available in hospitals but Covid-19 deaths have increased sharply in the past three weeks, Governor Claudia Pavlovich said on Wednesday.
There were 176 deaths in the three week period between October 4 and 24 compared to 125 in the three weeks prior, a 41% spike.
However, Pavlovich said the percentage of infected people who are dying has almost doubled in recent weeks from 3.5% to 6.9%.
Currently “medium” risk yellow on the stoplight map, Sonora has recorded 3,141 Covid-19 fatalities since the start of the pandemic and 37,764 confirmed cases, the fifth highest tally in the country behind Mexico City, México state, Nuevo León and Guanajuato.
The Health Ministry estimates that there are currently 849 active cases in the state.
Nationally, deaths pass 90,000
The national case tally rose to 906,863 on Wednesday with 5,595 new cases reported, while the official Covid-19 death toll increased to 90,309 with 495 additional fatalities registered.
Mexico ranks 10th in the world for confirmed cases and fourth for deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Among the 20 countries currently most affected by Covid-19, Mexico has the highest case fatality rate with 10 deaths per 100 confirmed cases. Among the same group of countries, it has the fourth highest mortality rate with 71.6 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants.
Belgium, Spain and Brazil rank first to third, respectively, in that category while the United States ranks fifth.