As stay-at-home orders are eased and businesses begin to reopen, it is tempting to think that life can go “back to normal” in our region. But the truth is, it needs to be a “smart” new normal.

Although we helped flatten the curve to not overload our health care system, unless we keep our COVID-19 numbers down, another surge in infections could trigger more lockdowns or worse, we could lose more friends and loved ones.

Yet, the real need to reopen the economy must be acknowledged and managed effectively so that people can return to work and prosper.

Above all else, our new normal will require unprecedented levels of coordination and cooperation among the public, private and health sectors in Juárez, El Paso and Southern New Mexico. That is why we have teamed up with the city of El Paso, and an international technology company, Battelle, to lead a unified effort to strengthen and enhance our region’s response to the pandemic – considering both the scientific and economic realities of a pandemic response.

The COVID-19 Enhanced Regional Public Health Response Partnership, launched at the beginning of April, already includes more than three dozen local hospitals, medical research centers, public health agencies, nonprofits and businesses.

The partnership works to increase communication about how to stay safe and healthy through social distancing and handwashing, how to modify workplace infrastructure and processes, how to access testing and treatment, and how to acquire and use PPE.

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Additionally, El Paso County recently passed a resolution to create a scientific task force to develop a strategic plan for managing the pandemic and for transitioning from “emergency response” to “enhanced medical care.” Our partnership is excited to collaborate with this task force to ensure that all perspectives are considered when creating this strategic plan.

These ambitious efforts are unique because they not only increase regional collaboration but they also bring Battelle to the table. Battelle’s team have great depth in science and research related to pandemics and are assisting communities around the world to manage through this pandemic. Battelle is working to test treatments and vaccines for COVID-19. Their participation means that our efforts and decisions are informed by the most current scientific research and evidence.

We are grateful that many organizations joined the partnership and provided funds needed to launch, including the Paso del Norte Health Foundation, the Woody and Gayle Hunt Family Foundation, the Foster Family Foundation, El Paso Water, El Paso Electric, Texas Gas Service, WestStar and Transtelco.

We are also grateful to you, our fellow community members, for following the stay-at-home orders even though they mean personal hardship. If you are a local business, nonprofit or community leader, we hope you will join our partnership and make your voice heard by emailing

While we need to reopen, we must do so with good information and a strong strategic plan. Until there is a vaccine, we need to work together to keep each other safe in this “smart” new normal and achieve the prosperity that the region had started to achieve prior to the pandemic and will certainly achieve in the future.

Emma Schwartz is president of the Medical Center of the Americas Foundation, and Tracy Yellen is chief executive of the Paso del Norte Health Foundation.


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