Covid-19 Update Mazatlán

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Despite—or perhaps because of—our concern about Semana Santa and COVID-19, things are finally getting quiet here in Mazatlán: no RAZRs running up and down the malecón at all hours, almost no motorcycles revving, and very few pulmonías or aurigas blaring their music in the middle of the night. It has taken a while, but Mexico is on board.

This pandemic to me is Mother Nature’s way of sending us all to our rooms and telling us to reflect on our actions while she cleans up her air. I do hope we will listen, but looking at the number of single-use masks now polluting our global waterways (photos below from the internet–not from Mazatlán), it seems we are not learning.

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Governor Quirino Ordaz first closed schools and massive events; then casinos, discos and cinemas. Next bars and restaurants were ordered to scale back seating 50%. Despite all this, we went a couple of weeks with loads of fireworks going off around town periodically and banda music blaring—showing that, despite the cancellation of loads of parties and events, others continued. Even now El Muchacho Alegre seems to have a party crowd in the evenings.

As it is up north, here it’s difficult to find hand gel, good sanitizer (bleach seems readily available), and face masks. We worry if medical staff will have the equipment they will need. A week or ten days ago people in Mazatlán started to make fabric masks. First they passed them out to family and friends, and now many locals are selling them, including ones made by the domestic-violence-surviving young women at Floreser. If you need homemade masks, they are my go-to source. Call Ely Cucurumbe at 669-123-1669 and she’ll deliver some to you (50 pesos each); she speaks great English.

Many restaurants have now voluntarily closed or have cut back to pickup or delivery only, including the Panama chain. This week the governor closed all beaches in Sinaloa: ocean, river, lake, stream. We have watched all day today as the lifeguards on 4-wheelers chase down anyone walking or gathering on the beach and make them leave. Banks, doctor’s offices and many stores are practicing the social distancing promoted by cartoon super-heroine “Susana Distancia” (“sana distancia” is “social distancing”) by marking their floors and setting chairs at a safe distance. This sadly does not prevent people from crowding around on top of each other. Below is a photo of the sign on the Cuban place, Carlos and Lucía’s, in the Golden Zone.

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All but essential workers have been asked to shelter in place, as we accustom to a new normal of food and grocery deliveries (stores remain open). Of course workers who are accustomed to living paycheck to paycheck are suffering horribly. President Lopez Obrador has promised relief, and Mazatlán’s mayor has done so, as well. It’s not enough, but it’s something. Most foreigners here have paid their housekeepers to stay home and not work, and I believe most foreign-owned businesses are doing the best they can by their workers, too. These are challenging times, to say the least. Yet, there are those who continue kissing, hugging and drinking on the malecón, and others who insist on partying. It breaks my heart, as so many of us are already indoors for three weeks in order to help minimize the effect of this virus on the community.

Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Wednesday the governor ordered the closure of all hotels. The AquaMarina Hotel had been one of the first to close, it seems a couple of weeks ago already. The photos above are of workers putting up a fence to prevent access to the Olas Altas Inn on the malecón, plus photos of the Hotel Playa Mazatlán, closed for the first time since its founding, the Decima and the Playa Bonita.

Several of the hotels have lit hearts using the lights of their empty rooms, as a sign of hope to our fair city, I suppose. I do love the gesture. The Hotel Hacienda, of course, has a tradition of lighting up for the holidays. Sadly, this time it’s not a celebration.

Below I throw in a pic of tonight’s sunset for those of you who are up north.

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Be well, dear readers, whether you are here in Mazatlán or you have returned to your families up north. Stay home, stay safe. Help out anyone you know who is alone, has special needs or underlying medical conditions. I hope you can use the time to read, learn a new skill or try a new exercise. Take care of yourselves and reach out to others; creativity is key as we tread this new territory.

COVID-19 Update Mazatlán, 17 March 2020

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There have been so many unsubstantiated rumors going around about COVID-19 and so much erroneous information that today I spoke with Julio Birrueta, head of the 30-year-old Mazatlán Tourism Board and the Hotel Association, about how Mazatlán’s tourism sector is responding to the virus threats. As Canadians flock home and there are rumors of the US closing its border as well, I wanted to know the latest thinking, and I want us all to be better able to respond to the tourists wishing to visit Mazatlán with information rather than conjecture.

Julio confirmed with me that this evening the elderly woman being tested for COVID-19 here in Mazatlán came back negative. Therefore, to date we have no confirmed cases in Mazatlán and only one confirmed active case in Sinaloa (Los Mochis). Julio assured me that the measures put in place by hotels and restaurants for the H1N1 problem in 2009 have remained in place, ­and three weeks ago the hotel association revised and updated those procedures and trained staff and management in pandemic response procedures. “If necessary, we will cease operations and quarantine. We will do everything necessary to avoid the spread of the virus,” Julio stated. “Our priority is the safety of visitors, citizens and staff.”

“If necessary, we will cease operations and quarantine. We will do everything necessary to avoid the spread of the virus.”

By now most of our readers know that private schools in Mazatlán have canceled classes from today, Tuesday; public schools have cancelled classes from next week until April 20, expanding the normal two week spring break to four. Not wanting to wait, many families are already keeping their children home. ISIC—the Sinaloa Institute of Culture, and Cultura Mazatlán have canceled events through April 20th, in addition to closing the Art Museum and the Municipal School of the Arts. The municipal sports authority (IMDEM) has also cancelled its events and closed its venues through April 20.

Just today the municipality installed a “Mazatlán Health Advisory Board,” and tomorrow, Wednesday March 18th, business leaders including the hotel and restaurant associations will meet with the ayuntamiento—city leaders—to make decisions about how to proceed to protect Mazatlán from the pandemic’s spread. They are relying heavily on learnings from China, Spain and Italy.

Santiago Reyes, epidemiologist of the 6th Sanitary District, today proposed the closure of diverse establishments including pre-schools and daycares, gyms, nightclubs, the aquarium and any events in which massive groups gather, including upcoming scheduled concerts. Birrueta confirmed to me that cancellations will no doubt include the Somos Musiq Fest, the Banda MS concert and the carnaval and fair scheduled for Holy Week. He also indicated that any attempt at a second moto-week will be denied  permits and met with strict enforcement of guidelines and policies—though Birrueta said that no one can prevent bikers from arriving.

Restaurants and hotels have already put in place the following preventive measures:

  • Hand gel at reception and in restaurants
  • Frequent cleaning of flat surfaces
  • Trash cans outside bathrooms so visitors can open doors with a paper towel and throw the towel away away

Mazatlán’s Mayor Guillermo Benitez Torres explained that “we are going to suggest that restaurants work with certain necessary precautionary measures while providing food to people, and ask bars, casinos, theaters, night clubs, dance clubs and music venues to have solidarity and close down to prevent us having to mandate them to do so.”

Birrueta told me that at least three major hotels including the Hotel Playa Mazatlán and the Riu have had doctors meet with all new check-ins for at least a week. Some guests have been returned home and others have been directed to medical care. He tells me that while some Mexican families are taking the school closures as an extended vacation, others understand the severity of the health threat and will stay home. He believes that over the next week Mexicans and Mazatlecos will increasingly buckle down and self-quarantine.

Tourism Mazatlán is predicting a Semana Santa at about 60% of normal numbers. To ensure safety, they are implementing a “Responsible Tourist” program that will be announced next week. People will be asked:

  • To stay at least two meters away from others at all times, including from other parties on the beach
  • To wash their hands frequently
  • To use a paper towel to open bathroom doors

I know we’ll hear more after the big meeting tomorrow, and I’m told there will be many new announcements in the upcoming days and weeks. In the meantime, please wash your hands frequently. While you’re at it, clean your nose, eyes, ears and throat frequently, too. Keep door handles, cell phones and car interiors wiped clean. Get your neighborhood or condominium association to put in place sanitary practices for the sake of residents and staff. Reach out to neighbors and friends who may appreciate extra assistance. Buy what you need but don’t hoard. Together we’ve got this! Stay healthy, everyone.