WATCH: Coronavirus and the daily trade and traffic from Mexico

It’s been said that diseases know no border. As the US grapples with its coronavirus response, one outstanding question is how to handle the daily back and forth trade and tourism between the US, and Mexico and Canada. I spoke with Congressman Henry Cuellar, a Texas democrat whose district includes the border town of Laredo.

Rep. Henry Cuellar: Let me just give you a snapshot. Laredo, Texas, 14,000 trailers a day crossing north and southbound. Number one in trucks, number one in trains, 24 trains that cross north and south. We get about 150 buses. People that will cross over, go to the malls, go to the restaurants, hotels and all that, interchanging with our folks. Not saying that there’s anything wrong with Mexico, but I’m just saying what do you do when there is a large number of crossings? Are the men and women at the frontline ready to one, make sure that they’re protected? Two, are they able to detect, are there medical folks that they have here?

Sharyl: You’re on the Appropriations Committee, which is the funding committee and a lot of us watch this request go from maybe $2 billion to $8 billion, and some say that’s not enough. Americans I think are watching and nobody wants to short the government on money it needs to keep people safe. But, on the other hand, is it reasonable to expect a pretty detailed budget and justification for this money beforehand and really good follow up after the fact?

Rep. Cuellar: Absolutely. There has to be oversight on this. For example, the $8.3 billion that we just passed, there’s monies that go to state health departments and local health departments, the men and women on the ground.

Sharyl: So who is it who is asking these questions like the one you asked, why does it feel like at least sometimes we’re reinventing the wheel every couple of years when there’s an infectious disease concern in the United States?

Rep. Cuellar: We do that on the appropriation process, but I think what we need to do is have an overarching plan to address this type of situations. I will tell you somebody’s going to come up, “Oh, there’s probably a plan for this already.” But, the problem is if we don’t know about that plan or certainly folks at the state level or at the local level don’t know about it, then it doesn’t serve a purpose. We have to have a national strategy. We have to understand what happens when we have a situation because this is not the first time. We’re talking about coronavirus. Recently we were talking about Zika. If you remember that caused a problem. We were talking about Ebola, we talked about SARS some years ago. It seems like you’ve said and I think your point is right online, it seems like we start from scratch every time. Where is the overarching national strategy?

Sharyl: With what to do about borders and people coming in and leaving and all of those big questions.

Rep. Cuellar: Exactly.

Both Mexico and Canada, like the U.S., have confirmed coronavirus outbreaks.

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