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White House eyes travel from Mexico as source of virus spike

WASHINGTON – The White House is floating a theory that travel from Mexico may be contributing to a new wave of coronavirus infections, rather than states’ efforts to reopen their economies.

The notion was discussed at some length during a meeting of the administration’s coronavirus task force in the White House Situation Room Thursday that focused, in part, on identifying commonalities between new outbreaks, according to two administration officials familiar with the discussions.

COVID-19 cases are currently rising in nearly half of states across the country, according to an Associated Press analysis. That includes Arizona, where hospitals have been told to prepare for the worst, and Texas, which now has more hospitalized patients than ever.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was deploying teams to Arizona and other hotspots to try to trace the outbreaks and contain them, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly describe internal conversations. CDC officials and the White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In addition to Arizona, other states experiencing recent spikes of infections include California, Texas and North Carolina — particularly within the Hispanic community. As a result, the task force is looking at whether those spikes may be tied to legal travel between the U.S. and Mexico, which is experiencing an ongoing severe coronavirus outbreak.

Mexico has had more than 133,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and nearly 16,000 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University — dramatically fewer than the U.S., which has surpassed 2 million cases and more than 113,000 deaths.

The U.S. and Mexico entered into a joint agreement in March to restrict non-essential travel along the countries' border to try to contain the spread of the coronavirus, though American citizens and many others are still allowed entry to the U.S., including those conducting commercial traffic and agricultural workers.

Still, cross-border travel is down substantially, and the U.S. State Department continues to urge Americans to avoid all international travel due to the pandemic.

Trump has long tried to used Mexico as a scapegoat, painting the country as a source of crime and disease in the U.S. And he has used the pandemic crisis to push forward some of his most hard-line stalled immigration proposals, including blocking asylum cases and placing new limits on green cards.

In addition to its theory about Mexico, members of the White House task force were also exploring other potential causes for the recent uptick in numbers, noting that circumstances likely differ by location. Delays in test reporting and the fact that some infected people take multiple tests in order to get an all-clear to return to work are among the other theories that are being explored, but would not account for the increase in hospitalizations seen in some states.