COVID-19 Update Mazatlán, 17 March 2020

julio2.jpg

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.