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Editor’s note: A version of this story first appeared in the Colorado Springs Gazette on March 18, 2020. This version has been updated to include information reported on Thursday and Friday, March 19-20, including Friday’s border closure announcements.
A Mexican businessman who owns a home in Vail confirmed Tuesday that another prominent Mexican businessman contracted the COVID-19 virus in Vail and is now in critical condition with the disease in a hospital in Mexico.
“I don’t know Kuri well. I know he is in the hospital trying to survive.,” Luis Alberto Harvey said via email from Mexico late Tuesday, referring to José Kuri Harfush, 71, head of del Grupo Financiero Inbursa.
Harfush is reportedly the first cousin of Carlos Slim, head of the international conglomerate Grupo Carso, the wealthiest man in Mexico and a longtime Vail property owner. Harfush, according to the Wall Street Journal, serves on the boards of many of Slims’ companies.
Harfush reportedly returned to Mexico from Vail on March 8 before succumbing to the disease and being hospitalized.
Bloomberg News on Thursday reported that Jaime Ruiz Sacristán, the chairman of Mexican stock exchange, was on the plane back with Harfush and has also contracted COVID-19. Separately, Bloomberg is reporting the CEO of the parent company of Jose Cuervo contracted the virus in Vail, and that many of the infections are being traced back to the Burton U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships in Vail in late February.
“What I can tell you is that there are many, many people that have come back to Mexico from Vail and they have the virus,” said Harvey, who owns a home in East Vail and is the head of Harvey Partners Company. “It seems that Vail has a bug problem with the virus.”
Harvey, who was once on the Mexican version of the television show Shark Tank, said he is feeling well and that he and his family are no longer in Vail and are safely on a beach in Mexico.
“We came to the beach in Ixtapa. It is very warm here and it seems the hot weather helps to kill the virus,” Harvey said, passing on good wishes to the locked-down Vail community. “Keep safe. This will pass in a few weeks, I hope.”
Beginning on March 6, with the first positive test for the virus in Eagle County, the Vail area has been one of the hardest hit parts of Colorado, prompting closure of the local ski areas on Saturday. Vail Health CEO Will Cook on Wednesday wrote in a dire warning to the community that there are now more than 50 confirmed cases locally and likely hundreds if not thousands of more cases that simply haven’t been tested and confirmed.
Mexican Deputy Health Minister Hugo López-Gatell told Business Insider last week that “community transmission within Mexico could begin within about 15 days … and that all of the 12 confirmed cases to date were detected in people who have recently traveled abroad to countries including Italy, Spain and the United States.” That number by Friday, March 20, had jumped to 164 confirmed cases in Mexico with one death.
On Tuesday, the Trump administration announced a crackdown on the southern border to prevent illegal crossings and detentions in crowded facilities where the virus might spread. At a White House press briefing on Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that beginning on midnight on Saturday, March 21, both the Mexican and Canadian borders with the United States will be closed to all “non-essential travelers.”
“What an irony [that] the Trump administration aims to close the southern border because poor brown folks will spread COVID-19,” Lehigh University assistant sociology professor Hugo Ceron Anaya wrote on Facebook Thursday. “However, it is the case that super-wealthy Mexicans are the ones spreading the virus from the U.S. to Mexico.”
Asked to comment on the recent news coverage, both in Mexico and the United States, concerning the spread of COVID-19, Anaya emailed:
“[The] articles mentioned Vail, but no one has picked up on the irony that while Trump excludes poor migrants on the argument that they will bring the virus to the U.S., wealthy folks are the ones globally circulating the disease,” Anaya wrote. “This seems to fit well the overall perception of wealth, in the U.S. and Mexico, associated with a set of positive traits, while poverty is frequently associated with the opposing set of traits.”
Anaya is the director, Latin American and Latino Studies Program at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania and the author of “Privilege at Play: Class, Race, Gender, and Golf in Mexico”.
As of Thursday, there have been 164 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Mexico and one death, compared to nearly 14,400 cases and more than 200 deaths in the United States and 873 cases and 12 deaths in Canada. On Wednesday, the administration announced a mutual agreement with Canada to close the northern border to all nonessential travel.
Aspen Skiing Company spokesman Jeff Hanle said last week that it’s important to remember that COVID-19 knows no boundaries or borders. A group of Australian skiers in Aspen tested positive for the virus and was for the most part isolated there starting March 8.
“We don’t know and no one knows where the first patient, who returned to Australia, picked up the infection,” Hanle said. “It’s everywhere right now; it’s not a foreign disease.
“There’s no cause for fear of people who are not from the same country you’re from. We can all get a cold, we can all get a flu, we can all spread [COVID-19]. It’s not something that is being spread strictly by international travelers.”
Earlier this month, according to Australian news outlets, a clinic in Melbourne closed after an Australian doctor visiting Vail returned home and later tested positive for COVID-19. He was later identified as Dr. Chris Higgins, the father of singer Missy Higgins.
President Donald Trump has taken to calling COVID-19 the “Chinese Virus”.