Officials have confirmed that a rising number of coronavirus cases are tied to maquiladoras, foreign-owned factories in Mexico that build products made strictly for export.
Eleven workers who have died from the coronavirus have been linked to the Lear Corporation automotive factory in Juarez, Mexico. Juarez is located directly across the U.S.-Mexico border from El Paso, Texas. The Lear Corporation is based in Southfield, Michigan.
In a statement, Lear officials said “during this last week, we have learned of the hospitalization of some employees from our operations in Ciudad Juarez and the unfortunate death of several of them, officially, due to complications from respiratory conditions, presumably related to the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19).”
Lear officials did not specify how many employees have tested positive for the coronavirus or have died. Lear shut down all 42 of its factories in Mexico to comply with Mexican government orders issued March 23.
Humberto Campos, chief of medical benefits at the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS) for the Mexican state of Chihuahua (where Juarez is located), said that 11 workers from the Lear maquiladora died after testing positive for the coronavirus.
Dr. Arturo Valenzuela, with the Chihuahua state health authority for the northern zone, said they have been in “constant communication with the maquiladora industry.”
Valenzuela said during a recent press briefing that “the goal is to prevent explosive outbreaks of COVID-19 cases.”
Juarez currently has 63 confirmed cases of coronavirus, and 16 people have died. Across the border in El Paso there are 393 positive cases and six deaths.
The border factories are crucial to the economies of Juarez and El Paso and are a key component of U.S.-Mexico trade. The El Paso port of entry is the 14th busiest port in the U.S. and sees around 2,600 daily truck crossings. El Paso accounted for almost $80 billion in trade during 2019.
In the Juarez-El Paso area there are around 330 mostly U.S.-owned maquiladoras. The Lear factory in Juarez manufactures automotive seating systems for Mercedes, Lincoln and Mustang cars.
Reports of deaths tied to maquiladoras come at a time when Mexican trade groups are pushing to reopen auto factories that have been shut down because of the coronavirus.