A pedestrian crosses to Matamoros, Mexico, Friday afternoon from Brownsville along Gateway International Bridge. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald)

BROWNSVILLE — Matamoros Mayor Mario Alberto López Hernández said in a press release this week that he wants Mexican federal and state authorities to deny entrance to Americans and Brownsville residents to his city.

His proposal is similar to how the United States government is not allowing visitors into the country by land, as a measure to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

“It is very important that we implement similar measures to the ones the United States implemented to its visitors,” López Hernández said. “Matamoros families stopped going to the neighbor city. We think that families from Texas should also stop coming to this border, as a preventive measure to guarantee the health of the residents from both cities.”

López Hernández also stated that Americans are crossing every day to Matamoros to shop and visit the doctor. He said this poses a great risk for the families of Matamoros.

“It is important that in Mexico, and particularly at this border, we implement restrictive measures because United States residents and citizens are crossing every day to Matamoros to shop, go visit the doctor and their family and that means a great risk for the families of Matamoros,” he said.

During a press conference on Friday, Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. said the county has been in contact with the Mexican authorities and they are still not limiting Americans from entering Mexico but that the situation may change. He advises Cameron County residents to postpone their visits to Mexico.

“There were some comments being made that the Mexican government was not allowing U.S. citizens in and we checked with the authorities in Mexico and we’re told that that’s not the case,” Treviño said. “Again, if it is something that can wait, I know a lot of people get a lot of their doctor appointments and medicine from Mexico, so if it can wait I would suggest that you wait. If you can’t, be mindful of that and have proof of why you’re going.”

The Matamoros mayor’s views run counter to Mexico’s President Andres Manuel López Obrador, who last week stated in one of his daily press conferences that he has no intention of closing the border with the United States because it could affect both countries dramatically. He said he has been in talks with President Donald Trump and that they both have agreed to take only collective measures to stop the spread of COVID-19.

“We agreed to take collective measures,” López Obrador said in Spanish. “We are doing very well in that way, being careful to not take any rushed measures and separating politics from this issue that has to be treated with a lot of responsibility.

“We decided from the very beginning to let the doctors, the specialists, the scientists, the ones who would lead the process, because it’s two different things; the pandemic and the decisions that have to be taken. Sometimes if the decisions are not the right ones, it affects society as a whole.”

Many people who live in the Valley and rely on doctors and clinics in Mexico would be cut off from those options for care.

According to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2013, South Texas has one of the highest rates of uninsured people in the entire country and Texas has the highest uninsured rate in the country with about one in four people having no coverage of any kind.

People wait in line to cross into Brownsville from Matamoros, Mexico, Friday afternoon on Gateway International Bridge. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald)

According to this data, Hispanic males were the least likely to have health insurance nationally, but in Texas the rate was 67.4 percent of Hispanic men between the ages of 18-64 who earn less than $23,000 a year, an estimated of 950,000 people.

W.F. Strong, a professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, said closing the border would be a serious burden to Americans who go to Matamoros to the doctor and save money. He said Winter Texans would also be affected.

“This will be a huge problem for many Winter Texans who rely on Mexico, especially Progreso, for their medicines. For years, particularly in March, many seniors would trek across the border every day for a week to bring back the limit of a month’s supply so that they could have all the medicine they needed for the next six or seven months,” he said. “Most of the time this would be at 50 to 75 percent savings over the American priced medicines.”

Strong said that just like many Rio Grande Valley residents, even though he has health insurance, he still goes to Mexico to visit the doctor because it is cheaper. He said he saves about 40 percent over the cost of medicines in Matamoros.

“So shutting the border will be a serious burden to many. Plus the cost of going to the doctor every time they need a script refilled. As for me, I have gone across for years to get my blood pressure medicine. Even though I have insurance here that covers meds, I can still save by going to Mexico to get it,” he said. “So I often trek over there every three months or so and get three month supply. And, when my wife comes along, we can grab lunch at Garcia’s, too.”