BROWNSVILLE, Texas – When a surplus of COVID-19 vaccines exist in Brownsville, they should be given to Mexican visa holders living in Matamoros.
This is the view of public policy advocate Ron Whitlock and Brownsville licensed real estate broker Larry Jokl. The two are partnering with health and public safety officials to develop a plan whereby COVID vaccines are administered to Mexican nationals inside the Majestic Theatre in downtown Brownsville and across the street in the parking lot of the old HEB store.
However, first the U.S. and Mexican governments must re-open the international bridges to “non-essential” travel.
“I heard John Krouse, the dean of UTRGV School of Medicine, on the radio the other day saying the number of Valley residents taking the COVID-19 vaccine is dropping off sharply. In other words, those that want the vaccine now have it. Meanwhile, we are receiving thousands more vaccines. Pretty soon there is going to be a glut,” Whitlock said.
“We cannot have these vaccines going to waste. We know Matamoros does not have enough vaccines. So, let’s reopen the bridges and give the Mexican visa holders a wristband when they cross the bridge that entitles them to get the vaccine.”
Whitlock pointed out that there are thousands of U.S. citizens living in Matamoros who, for some reason, have not crossed back to get vaccinated. He said he wants to help them also.
Jokl, who is the broker for the Majestic Theater, said he, too, wants to help.
“There is no excuse, the international bridges need to be reopened. We are going to have spare vaccines, tens of thousands of spare doses. President Biden sent, what, two million vaccines into Mexico? That is not going to make a dent,” Jokl said.
“Open up the bridges and go from there. Let the people come across, all the way from one end of the border to the other and get vaccinated. It is the good neighborly thing to do.”
Whitlock pointed out that Pope Francis wants vaccines administered beyond the industrialized world.
“The Pope has asked for equity because 20 percent of the world are getting 80 percent of the vaccines. This past Sunday, on Meet The Press, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said his office is trying to get this done. He spoke about the fact that we have loaned millions of COVID vaccines to Canada and Mexico. But, not enough are getting to our families and neighbors in Tamaulipas,” Whitlock said.
“On the basis that Brownsville and Matamoros are twin cities, on the basis that the Pope is calling for it, and on the basis that the Secretary of State views this as a priority, it is logical that we do our part. Half the people in Brownsville have family in Matamoros and half the people in Matamoros have family in Brownsville. Let us get Brownsville vaccinated and then bring in Matamoros as soon as possible.”
Asked who he and Jokl are partnering with on the venture, Whitlock said: “We have already got a lot of important people signed up. We have Belinda Reininger, who is head of the University of Houston medical branch at UTRGV in Brownsville. Texas Southmost College has already volunteered to get involved with helping to train people to deliver the vaccine. I have met with Brownsville Fire Chief Jarrett Sheldon and Brownsville Public Health Director Dr. Arturo Rodriguez. They tell me they need help, that they are running out of volunteers. We have former Rotary Club Governor Andy Hagen; their clubs in Brownsville and Matamoros have agreed to work together. Andy has agreed to administrate. We have TSTC in Harlingen; the head of their foundation has agreed to assist. We want to administer the shots inside the Majestic Theater in downtown Brownsville. Larry is helping with that. And I am going to be requesting from Charles Butt the use of his property, across the street. We can use the old HEB parking lot as a drive thru.”
When it was pointed out to Whitlock that there could be tens of thousands of residents in Matamoros with visas that would like the COVID vaccine, he said: “We can handle it.”
Jokl said reopening the international bridges is long overdue.
“County Judge Eddie Treviño and state Sen. Eddie Lucio are working on it. The three South Texas congressmen are pushing the president hard to get the bridges open. All the illegals are coming across but those who have all the necessary documentation, the Mexican visa holders, they cannot come across. That is ridiculous. The president needs to get the bridges open to increase commerce along the border, from Brownsville all the way to San Diego. It is very important. The bridges need to be open. That is all there is to it.”
Vaccinating Reynosa Maquiladora Workers
Enrique Castro, a leader of INDEX Reynosa, wants maquiladora workers to be receive the COVID-19 vaccine at the land ports of entry. INDEX is the trade association for the maquiladora industry.
Castro told a virtual McAllen Economic Development Corporation board meeting this week:
“On COVID, things are getting better. We now have three bands, red, yellow and green. Tamaulipas got a green. So, supposedly we are on the safe side. I hope what the mayor said, about the crossings, hopefully, they will come forward and start looking at our area as a more safe place to go. We have a crazy plan. We are trying to get the 170,000 workers in our industry to get vaccinated and we have to find a way to do it because the government in Mexico does not allow companies in Mexico to buy vaccines. We will try to do something at the bridge. I have to talk to Keith and the mayor on how we can do it. I have proposed this idea to the CBP, maybe just bring people in buses, have them vaccinated and go back to Reynosa. That would create more confidence for people to start opening the non-essential travel between Reynosa and McAllen.”
The “Keith” Castro was talking about is Keith Patridge, president and CEO of McAllen EDC. The mayor Castro was talking about was McAllen Mayor Jim Darling. He, too, attended the MEDC board meeting via zoom.
“We are constantly talking to everyone we can including the administration to lift the non-essential travel ban that is hurting our merchants in town and in the Valley,” Darling told the board of directors.
“As an example, we have been keeping track of our COVID cases with asylum seekers. We are running around two to three percent which is about the same as the state average. No. 2, we are asking the county to keep track of the essential travelers. There is no trace back to Mexico, either Americans or Mexicans… no trace of essential travelers bringing COVID with them when they travel back and forth. So, there is no health reason for it (keeping international bridges closed to non-essential travel) and we keep telling the administration that. If you have any friends in the White House, let them know it is an unnecessary program.”
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows Ron Whitlock, Brownsville Fire Chief Jarrett Sheldon, a couple of his assistants, and Brownsville Public Health Director Dr. Arturo Rodriguez. They met at the old HEB parking lot in downtown Brownsville to discuss using the parking lot as a drive thru for vaccinating Mexican visa holders from Matamoros.
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