EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – More than 400,000 people attended the recently concluded Feria Juarez 2022, nearing a pre-COVID record, Juarez Mayor Cruz Perez Cuellar said.

The annual fair suffered sluggish attendance its initial week – possibly due to a string of triple-digit heat days – but picked up on the final 14 days; a single concert by Mexican regional music star Julion Alvarez drew 52,000 people, city officials told Border Report.

No violence was reported on the fairgrounds although a triple murder occurred in a home a few blocks away in mid-June.

The mayor said the promoter in charge of concerts at the fair is donating $150,000 to the municipal children’s agency.

But as COVID-19 cases spike in both Juarez and El Paso, health authorities worry many fairgoers soon may show symptoms of the disease.

“The fair could’ve required and enforced the use of facemasks, but that was not the case because they favored business and fun over health,” Dr. Lorenzo Soberanes, head of the Juarez Medical College, told local news media. “We hope this will not bring (adverse) consequences.”

Juarez this week reported 794 new cases and three fatalities, to bring its total to 53,607 cases and 4,651 deaths since the pandemic began. El Paso, too, is reporting a spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, although a health expert urges border residents to keep things in perspective.

El Paso on Wednesday reported 428 new cases, two deaths and 78 hospitalizations. The city has recorded 256,446 positive tests and 3,510 fatalities since the start of the pandemic.

“Hospital numbers have gone up, cases have gone up, but this is not 2020,” said Dr. Ogechika Alozie, an infectious disease specialist at Sunset West Health and appointee to various COVID-19 response boards and task forces. “We have therapeutics that help people in the hospitals, we have therapeutics that help people outside the hospital. And we have a population that is not only immensely vaccinated but is immensely (previously) infected.”

Alozie estimates that up to half of those who tested positive for COVID-19 and are hospitalized are probably suffering from comorbidities, not the infection itself.

“They’re not sick with pneumonia, they’re not sick on oxygen. They’re people who are in there with diabetes, hypertension and a host of medical conditions that have nothing to do with their COVID,” Alozie said. “If you’re worried, get vaccinated. We’re going to live with COVID. This is not going anywhere.”

El Paso City-County Health Authority Dr. Hector Ocaranza also urged border residents to get tested and boost their immunity through vaccination.

“The large increase in new cases gave rise to more people requiring hospitalization,” Ocaranza said. “Fortunately, the number of people remaining in the hospital is still relatively low, but this can change very rapidly. This is why we are strongly recommending the community rededicate themselves to preventative and proactive measures such as wearing a face cover while indoors, avoiding large gatherings, getting tested, staying home if sick, and also getting and keeping up with your COVID-19 vaccination to include your booster shots.”