Tourists Get Mixed Messages About Travel To Sonora As COVID-19 Cases Spike


In March, the Sonoran beach town Puerto Peñasco, or Rocky Point, shut its doors to the outside world.

“It was terrible. I can’t say any other word. It was terrible,” said Maru Zacatelco, owner of EcoFun Adventures which offers sightseeing tours on the Sea of Cortez.

Like many other businesses in Rocky Point, EcoFun Adventures closed for nearly five months this year as the city tried to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

EcoFun Adventures

But since Rocky Point reopened its beaches in August, Zacatelco says tourists have been flocking back, despite binational restrictions on travel at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“I see more people this December than any other December. Which I really think is because people were locked up for so long early on,” she said. “So yeah, I mean surprisingly we’re doing really good.”

She hopes it stays that way. And so does Mayor Kiko Munro.

“If anybody decides that Peñasco is the place to be, we’re ready for them,” he said.

He said Rocky Point has successfully balanced restarting its tourism-dependent economy while keeping people safe. The city has only reported 336 cases – that’s far fewer than most cities in Arizona or the rest of Sonora, where cases are soaring. Though because Rocky Point, like other parts of Mexico, has conducted much less testing than Arizona, it’s like that the true number of COVID-19 cases is actually much higher.

And Munro admitted that Rocky Point hasn’t been entirely spared from the toll of the virus.

“The mortality rate is really really high. It’s 17%,” he said.

However, he said, the 50 reported coronavirus deaths in Rocky Point are due to local transmission, not the city’s re-embrace of tourism.

Even after nearly three months on lockdown and with new COVID-19 precautions, Rocky Point received more than 800,000 visitors this year.

Rocky Point Mayor Kiko Munro
Rocky Point Mayor Kiko Munro gives a speech inaugurating the first cruise embarking from the city on Jan. 9, 2020.

That’s less than half as many as usual, according to the city’s tourism bureau. And while some months this fall was abnormally busy after the city’s lockdown during the spring high season, that’s unlikely to be the case this winter. The beaches are always less busy when cooler temperatures hit, and the city’s strict sanitation protocols, occupancy limits, and 11 p.m. curfew will likely put a damper on holiday festivities that usually attract visitors.

But, Munro said, visitors who want to come are welcome.

“Of course we always relate to the staying home policy which is the best in order to prevent COVID. But if you’re thinking of going out of town you might as well consider us as a safe place to visit,” he said, adding later: “Again, we’re reinforcing the call to stay home. But if you’re not going to stay home, if you are thinking about getting out of the city, you can rest assured that Peñasco is taking the necessary precautions.”

Please Don’t Come

Other leaders, though, are sending a different message.

“We’re putting out a call, very respectfully, for people to avoid traveling, avoiding leaving their homes, avoid getting sick or getting other people sick,” said Guaymas Mayor Sara Valle. “I don’t think it is the right moment to visit our municipality.”

It’s not easy, she said, for a community where many people who work in the tourism industry are already struggling this year because of lost jobs and income. But she hopes to get through 2020 safely will.

At least for now, though, Guaymas — home to the popular beachside destination San Carlos — won’t be closing beaches and tourist attractions like it did earlier this year, Valle said. But with cases rising around the state and across the border, she thinks travelers will heed her call to stay away this winter in hopes of being able to visit when it’s safer next year.

“There are so many people in Phoenix who come to visit us. People from here, with family here, and we want them and we care about them. But this year, we want them to stay home,” she said.

Mixed Messages

These conflicting messages aren’t just a matter of different policies in different places.

Sonora Governor Claudia Pavlovich
Sonora Governor Claudia Pavlovich announced Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020, that she has asked the Mexican government to make Sonora a priority for doses of the coronavirus vaccine.

Earlier this month, as Sonora governor Claudia Pavlovich urged Mexican nationals, known as paisanos, not to come home for the holidays, the state’s tourism head Luis Nunez was touting the tourist appeal of a newly earned “safe travel” certification.

Meanwhile, travel restrictions at the U.S.-Mexico border have been extended into next year, and the CDC has issued its highest level advisory against travel to Mexico, warning U.S. citizens that if they test positive for COVID-19 they could be denied re-entry into the United States.

But U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Christopher Landau told the newspaper El Financiero this month that visiting Mexico during the pandemic is safe — as long as travelers follow sanitary protocols.

These confusing messages and poorly implemented or scantly enforced policies are putting people’s health at risk, said Maria de Barajas, a researcher with Colegio de la Frontera Norte, Barajas has been studying cross-border mobility amid the pandemic.

“We’re turning a blind eye, telling people to come, half-way protecting ourselves, and we’re creating a situation where we’re going to end up having to shut everything down not by choice but because people are getting sick and dying,” she said.

Barajas doesn’t agree with U.S.-Mexico border travel restrictions because she considers much of the travel being barred essential for border communities.

But she says the restrictions haven’t worked anyway because U.S. citizens and permanent residents, unlike their Mexican counterparts, can still easily cross back and forth. That’s because they are allowed to return to the U.S. under the restrictions, and there is little southbound enforcement in Mexico to keep them out.

Rocky Point sunset
The sun sets over the popular beach town Rocky Point in Sonora, Mexico in early October 2020.

“That’s created an asymmetry that does nothing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, but has very serious impacts on people living in border towns,” Barajas said.

And economic hardship in Mexico, where government assistance is essentially nonexistent, has left leaders little choice but to throw open the doors to tourists.

With coronavirus cases spreading quickly on both sides of the border, she said, tourists shouldn’t be traveling.

“Well, the truth is they shouldn’t be going out. I mean, the reality is these people should stay home right now,” she said. “But we can see that they are traveling. And if we can’t stop them from traveling, we need to take all the right precautions.”

Rather than continuing to talk about restrictions that aren’t being enforced, she said, government leaders, business owners and travelers themselves need to be doing more to actually protect workers and communities from coronavirus, she said. That means increased testing and contract tracing, especially for workers, as well as careful adherence to social distancing, mask-wearing and other measures.

Stay Open, Stay Safe

Last month, Jose Flores recorded a live show packed with tourists at his Rocky Point business the Boo Bar. He said seeing those visitors sitting on his patio, listening to music and looking out over the ocean was a happy moment from a very stressful year. He needs those cross-border visitors to stay afloat.

The Black Moods
Phoenix band The Black Moods play a live show at the Boo Bar in Rocky Point on Nov. 22, 2020

“A lot of us can’t afford to be shut down any more, because we went through this for months and are still suffering through strict protocols and the potential for getting sick,” he said. “But another lockdown, that would be the worst, the worst other than getting sick and dying.”

Flores thinks that there is a way for tourists to visit safely, and that Rocky Point is doing a good job. Bars like his can only operate at 40 percent capacity, they require face masks and workers have been trained to carefully sanitize.

But tourists also need to do their part to keep the city safe, he said, because the only thing he fears more than shutting down is for friends and family to get sick.

“If you feel sick or if you feel scared, I wouldn’t travel, for one,” he said. “And for two, abide by city protocols, state protocols, and established protocols. It’s not our fault that you need to wear a mask, but you need to wear a mask. It’s not our fault that you need to step on a sanitary mat, but you need to step on the sanitary mat, and you have to get your temperature checked. So I think above all, have respect for our current protocols and restrictions. And you’ll enjoy yourself.”

Sonora, January 14, 2021.- Sonora continues to go through a pandemic where contact with people who do not live in the same household must be limited as much as possible, mainly in Hermosillo, Nogales, and San Luis Río Colorado, which are located in code red, so the use of the mask is essential, highlighted Enrique Clausen Iberri.

The Secretary of Health in Sonora recalled that almost 10 months have passed since the pandemic began in the state, a time in which citizens have been made aware of the danger posed by COVID-19 and how cruel it has been with many families and with the personnel of the health sector.

“There are no words to describe the emotions that many of us felt yesterday, when we witnessed the application of the first vaccine in Sonora; as you surely already know, Rodrigo Romero, a nurse in the Covid area of ​​the General Hospital of the State, was the first warrior to receive the first dose, “he commented.

Clausen Iberri added that a batch of 14,650 Pfizer vaccines arrived for the Salud Sonora, Issste and Social Security personnel, vaccines that have already been distributed to the personnel of the front line of battle of Cananea, Magdalena, Nogales, Cajeme, Navojoa , Guaymas, Álamos, Agua Prieta and San Luis Río Colorado.

“Inevitable to experience mixed feelings when seeing the enormous emotion, charged with relief, with which the health personnel are receiving vaccines, an emotion that is also filled with nostalgia for the warriors of the front line of battle that COVID took, And for those who also the arrival of these vaccines is a deserved and very heartfelt posthumous tribute; What a pleasure for the health personnel! How deserved that they are the first, blessed God that in Sonora the vaccination process has begun “, he pointed.

33 deaths were confirmed by Covid-19, in 18 women and 15 men, residents of: Hermosillo 22; Nogales 2; Navojoa, Empalme, Sahuaripa, San Felipe de Jesús, Santa Ana, Agua Prieta, Huatabampo, Cajeme, and Magdalena 1 each, with which there are 4,354 deaths.
497 new cases were added by Covid, in 259 women and 238 men, residents of: Hermosillo 394; Cash me 52; Nogales 14; San Luis Río Colocado and Cananea 8; Santa Ana 7; Huatabampo 3; Caborca, San Ignacio Río Muerto and Navojoa 2 each; Carbó, Guaymas, Bácum, Huachinera and Magdalena 1 each to reach 54 thousand 782 cases in total since the beginning of the pandemic.

Today, 7 pediatric cases were confirmed in 5 boys and 2 girls, accumulating 994 cases in total, and 2 cases were counted in pregnant women, reaching a total of 402 cases.
To date, 48,340 people have recovered from Covid-19 in Sonora.

COVID-19 cases in Sonora 54,782 confirmed cases and 4,354 deaths
Deaths registered on January 14, 2021: 33Hermosillo: 22Walnuts: 2Cash me: 1Cupcake: 1Navojoa: 1Splice: 1Sahuaripa: 1Saint Philip of Jesus: 1Santa Ana: 1Agua Prieta: 1Huatabampo: 1
Women: 18 / Men: 15
Medical InstitutionIsssteson: 17IMSS: 8ISSSTE: 5Secretary of Health: 3

Cases confirmed on January 14, 2021: 497Hermosillo: 394Cash me: 52Walnuts: 14San Luis Río Colorado: 8Cananea: 8Santa Ana: 7Huatabampo: 3San Ignacio Rio Muerto: 2Caborca: 2Navojoa: 2Carbo: 1Guaymas: 1Bacum: 1Huachinera: 1Cupcake: 1

Women: 259 / Men: 238
Medical InstitutionMinistry of Health: 232IMSS: 134Issteson: 131

Accumulated Deaths: 4,354Hermosillo: 1,385Cash me: 762Walnuts: 403San Luis Río Colorado: 380Guaymas: 253Navojoa: 203Black Water: 181Caborca: 100Huatabampo: 96Splice: 75Puerto Peñasco: 60Etchojoa: 60Cananea: 56Magdalena: 47Nacozari de Garcia: 46Benito Juarez: 32Bacum: 30Santa Ana: 30Gral. Plutarco Elías Calles: 17San Ignacio Rio Muerto: 17Borders: 14Imuris: 12Cumpas: 12Montezuma: 7Pitiquito: 7Altar: 6Naco: 6Ures: 5Benjamin Hill: 5San Miguel de Horcasitas: 4Villa Hidalgo: 4Rosary: ​​4Sahuaripa: 4Aconchi: 3Saric: 3Bacoachi: 3Baviácora: 3Poplars: 3Bavispe: 2Carbo: 2Rayon: 2Opodepe: 1Santa Cruz: 1Arizpe: 1Oquitoa: 1Nácori Chico: 1Banamichi: 1Pomegranates: 1Arivechi: 1Cucurpe: 1Saint Philip of Jesus: 1
Women: 1,863 / Men: 2,491
Medical InstitutionIMSS: 2,764Ministry of Health: 1,169Isssteson: 315Issste: 98Sedena: 4Week: 4

Total confirmed cases: 54,782Hermosillo: 26,312 municipality with the highest incidence with 47% of the total.Cajeme: 6,657 that represent 12% of the total.Walnuts: 3,862 representing 7% of the totalSan Luis Río Colorado: 2,574 representing 5% of the totalGuaymas: 2,286Navojoa: 2,283Caborca: 2,204Cananea: 1,742Black Water: 1,100Huatabampo: 943Splice: 808Etchojoa: 584Magdalena: 504Puerto Peñasco: 394Santa Ana: 320Nacozari de Garcia: 286Bacum: 187Gral. Plutarco Elías Calles: 170Pitiquito: 169Poplars: 146Benito Juarez: 135San Ignacio Rio Muerto: 109Baviácora: 100Imuris: 82Sahuaripa: 78Ures: 77Altar: 65Cumpas: 60Moctezuma: 57Rosary: ​​48Borders: 42Bacoachi: 38Benjamin Hill: 36Naco: 32Yécora: 27Aconchi: 25Saric: 22San Miguel de Horcasitas: 18Arizpe: 16Nácori Chico: 14Trenches: 14Villa Hidalgo: 12Granados: 12Quiriego: 12Arivechi: 11Cucurpe: 9Banamichi: 9Carbo: 9Rayon: 8Bavispe: 6Huásabas: 6Onavas: 6Dividers: 5Tubutama: 5Saint Philip of Jesus: 5Bacerac: 5Tepache: 5Villa Pesqueira: 4Huepac: 4Santa Cruz: 4San Javier: 3Bacadéhuachi: 3Huachinera: 3Opodepe: 2Oquitoa: 2Bacanora: 2Soyopa: 1Big Suaqui: 1San Pedro de la Cueva: 1La Colorada: 1

Women: 29,577 / Men: 25,205
Medical InstitutionMinistry of Health: 38,922IMSS: 10,520Isssteson: 4,161Issste: 945Sedena: 220Week: 14
Cases studied: 102,339Confirmed: 54,782Discarded: 47,557Mild frame: 8,371Active patients: 1,528Patients in completed follow-up: 6,843Curated: 41,497Hospitalized: 560Stable: 215Bass: 243Severe patients with invasive mechanical ventilation: 102


The Sonora Post