Greg Cox: Essential workers cross the U.S.-Mexico border every day. Coronavirus testing there is essential.

Two cities. Two nations. One binational culture.

For generations, the people of San Diego and Tijuana have enjoyed a unique relationship as a border mega-region.

People cross the border every day to work, go to school, shop and enjoy each other’s culture.

It is an economically beneficial relationship that has created jobs and supported businesses on both sides of the border.

But today, the closeness of that relationship is being tested by a global pandemic that most of us have never seen in our lifetimes.

There is an old saying in the medical field that “diseases know no borders.” That has never been more true than now, when the new coronavirus has spread throughout Baja California and caused high case numbers in South County, the part of the region that I represent on the county Board of Supervisors.

Throughout this difficult time, members of our county public health staff have kept in constant contact with their counterparts in Tijuana to share information, ideas and even just to support each other. But one of the pieces of information that remains hard to quantify is the extent to which people who cross the border daily are traveling with the coronavirus.

That is why this week, the county opened a pilot test site at the border, just steps from the Pedestrian East crossing at the San Ysidro Port of Entry.

The test site will be up and running each morning to reach those travelers who have been deemed essential by the federal government and are allowed to cross the border.

Placing a testing site at one of the busiest land border crossings in the world has been no easy task. We had discussed the idea with the federal government for weeks until we finally decided to go on our own with the site. Customs and Border Protection has provided the county space to operate the outdoor testing site and we appreciate its support.

Our goal is simple — reach those essential workers who cross every day and make sure they have an opportunity to get tested.

Some of these workers wait in lines for hours to legally cross the border. Maybe they haven’t had the time or the opportunity to get tested. That is why we’re taking this testing site right to them.

We believe this site will be a great resource to these essential workers. Similar to our other county sites, the tests are free, and they will be voluntary. We will not ask for personal information other than names and contact information.

For the county, the site will allow us to capture better data on the essential travelers crossing into the U.S. We will work with the Mexican government to contact Baja residents who test positive so that they are aware and take the appropriate steps.

We did not open this site so that we can point fingers and cast blame. We know that there are many reasons for why so many Latinos in South County have the coronavirus, and that it cannot be boiled down to one simple explanation.

But we know that Latinos are being disproportionately affected by the coronavirus. That is why we have worked with cities in South County, including Chula Vista, National City and Imperial Beach, to provide testing sites, while also adding sites in Southeastern San Diego and San Ysidro. We now have more than half of the county testing availability in my district.

Yet testing is just one part of our comprehensive approach to the high case numbers.

We have made a concerted effort to hire a contact tracing team that can connect with the Latino community in a bilingual and bicultural manner. We are working on hiring staff that is reflective of the community most impacted. But we are also enhancing our efforts to add promotoras (community outreach workers) and graduates from Resident Leadership Academies to build on the trusted partnerships they have established.

We launched an expansive Spanish media campaign in broadcast, digital and print outlets. We also just made agreements with community-based organizations to serve as trusted messengers to deliver this information to vulnerable populations currently impacted by the coronavius and COVID-19, the disease it causes, including Latinos, African Americans, Asian/Pacific Islanders and the refugee community.

As the first wave of this pandemic continues, and a second wave looms in the fall, we must continue to work together to fight this pandemic and slow the spread.

Yes, we will always be two cities and two nations. But working together as one region, we can defeat the spread of the virus.

Cox is chairman of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. A resident of Chula Vista, he has represented District 1 on the board for the last 25 years.

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