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Nogales officials work to boost economy during produce season as COVID-19 cases drop

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TUCSON (KVOA) - During the pandemic, Santa Cruz County became a hotspot for COVID-19. At the same time, they were also dealing with border closures impacting their local economy.

The county is now reporting single-digit numbers with a steady decline in cases. Nogales City officials say that could be the result of a mask proclamation.

Prior to that, the city was standing out in the state for a high percentage of positive COVID-19 tests.

News 4 Tucson spoke with Santa Cruz County Health Department Epidemiologist Fernando Silvas and asked him about the prior high numbers.

"Those higher percentage rates may have been because it was so strict down here as far as who got tested," Silvas said. "Because the availability of kits wasn't quite there and you had to meet certain criteria symptoms. So it wasn't mass testing, it was very specific."

Silvas says the county has since ramped up testing and encouraged the community to follow CDC guidelines to stop the spread.

"We are doing more outreach efforts," Silvasa said. "Talking to some of the produce industries to try and see what they need from us, while they ramp up for the produce season."

Produce season is a big moneymaker for the city and helps employ a lot of people. Nogales Mayor Arturo Garino says his office will be meeting with produce industry officials within the next week to help them safely prepare for the upcoming season.

"A lot of people in Nogales do depend on the produce industry," Garino said. "Before many years ago, it was like six months out of the year that you worked in produce, now they're working almost ten months."

With international borders closed to non-essential workers, the city also braced for a hard economic impact but the mayor says local residents helped cushion the blow.

"We came to the conclusion that since nobody from Nogales was going to Tucson to shop or going to Nogales, Sonora to shop," Garino said. "The residents were shopping here locally and that kept us afloat. So our numbers are not that bad."

While several businesses in the border city remain closed, Mayor Garino says he hopes the city's cases can continue to decline so they can eventually open everything back up.

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Denelle Confair

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