LAREDO, Texas — Coronavirus might feel like it’s over, or almost over. If you’re vaccinated masks are often optional.
We can once again see each other’s faces, even hug!
But in Raj Sharma’s life, COVID-19 is very much a present danger, a threat to his family’s livelihood.
“It's a struggle,” Sharma told KENS 5, “We're working as hard as we can to survive.”
More than a year ago, the pandemic forced the closure of bridges on the U.S. Mexico border for non-essential travel.
“A lot of people from Mexico would just walk across and do their shopping and then go back,” Sharma said. “There's absolutely nobody really walking around. Maybe about 80 percent of the businesses in downtown are already closed.”
The Federal Government just announced the land crossings will be closed at least through the latter part of July.
For the people who can afford to fly to Laredo, coronavirus safety is within reach.
The city is inviting them to come and get vaccinated.
“People look at it and say, ‘OK, I need to get the vaccine. I need to go to the U.S. to do it. But I don't really know if that's legal. No government has agency has said it is,’” said Laredo Airport Director Jeffrey Miller.
“The City Council made basically the resolution that we made this kind of proclamation about coming to Laredo on a vaccine vacation,” Miller added.
The City of Laredo started advertising vaccine vacations mid-May. Every week three flights from Mexico City land here, with options to get a free shot, or shots, stay, shop, spend, or come back for the second dose.
“We do see a direct result of the AEROMAR flights when they come and sales at our malls at both Mar del Norte and then the outlet shops. So we know there's a direct economic impact when the flights here,” Miller told KENS5.
The city of Laredo told KENS5 it was too early to assess the full economic impact of the vaccine tourism. We’re told the mall managements shared with the city it’s been seeing travelers shop and then head back to the airport.
But the effort is not only about money.
“We're so interconnected with our Mexican neighbors, the more people are vaccinated here in Laredo, here in the U.S. and in general in Mexico, it's going to be better for all of us, especially being on the border, because everybody goes back and forth,” said Aileen Ramos, Director of Laredo Visitors Bureau.
“It’s not really helping the border situation in downtown because those people are not hopping in downtown,” Sharma told KENS5.
For so many of us coronavirus might feel like a nightmare we somehow survived. But not Sharma, he’s worried about his family, his employees, their future.
“I’m afraid if this continues, downtown probably won't be anywhere in the books at all,” Sharma said. “I hope that some people listening to this will take some steps to help ease some of our pain and help us get through this.”