El Paso public health officials on Wednesday reported 47 additional COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 393.
Two additional COVID-19 deaths were reported, bringing the total to six. The 85-year-old man and 51-year-old man both had underlying health conditions, officials said.
Positive cases in El Paso County are 203 females and 190 males.
“People need to realize that things will continue getting worse in El Paso if they don’t adhere to the Stay Home, Work Safe orders,” said Dr. Hector Ocaranza, city/county health authority.
“If we don’t stay at home, practice social distancing, and wear the recommended face coverings when in public, it is only a matter of time before one of our loved ones is struck by COVID-19 and we do not want more devastated families,” he added.
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Officials said 4,866 tests have been conducted in El Paso.
Ocaranza said 43% of the cases are people younger than 30, but said the ones suffering the consequences and severity of complications are older family members.
“Those are the ones we need to protect,” he said.
Officials said 65 patients are hospitalized, and 27 of those are in intensive care, with eight on ventilators.
El Paso public health officials said that 48 patients have recovered from COVID-19.
Cluster of COVID-19 cases at health care facility
City officials said a health care facility that has seen a cluster of COVID-19 cases now has 32 cases. Ocaranza said that initially, 11 cases were reported. He would not confirm a report that a person from the facility has died.
Officials again refused to name the facility. Ocaranza cited Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act confidentiality requirements.
However, a news release posted Wednesday on Twitter by the Texas State Employees Union, CWA Local 6186, said, “We are saddened by last night’s report of the death of a State Employee at the El Paso Psychiatric Center.”
It said that over the past weeks, the union and several elected officials have reached out to Gov. Greg Abbott’s office “about the hardships workers are currently facing with COVID-19, and common sense solutions needed to keep the state functioning. Unfortunately, very little has been done to protect both Clients and Staff at State Supported Living Centers, State Hospitals and State Health Science Centers.”
It said as of Wednesday, “Health and Human Services has reported: 108 State Employees at State Supported Living Centers & State Hospitals have tested positive for COVID-19. This is on-top 120 confirmed cases among clients at these facilities.”
The union called on the governor to immediately test frontline workers at the state supported living centers, state hospitals and state health science centers, as well as increased funding for additional staffing and hazard pay for all state employees.
In an April 10 email, Christine Mann, chief press officer with the Texas Health & Human Services Commission, said as “of close of business on April 8, 2020, HHSC had received reports of 162 nursing facilities and 33 assisted living facilities located in Texas as having one or more COVID-19 positive resident and/or health care worker. HHSC had received reports of 38 deaths related to COVID-19 in nursing facilities and 9 deaths related to COVID-19 in assisted living facilities located in Texas.”
El Paso Mayor Dee Margo said, “I think we are being as transparent as we can right now.”
He added, “If identification of a specific entity is required, then certainly we would do that.”
He used past incidents of tuberculosis as an example, saying that city hadn’t historically identified a medical facility.
“We have identified the number of cases, we’ll identify hot spots, we’ll identify where we are in the entire process, but the medical facility, I don’t believe there is any harm being had by any El Pasoan because that name is not out there publicly as disclosed by the city,” he said.
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When reminded that other places, including Harris County, are naming facilities, City Attorney Karla Nieman said, “Our approach has been to release information for statistical purposes.”
She said case law does not specify that the name of the facility be released, adding that the name can be released with consent.
She said, “Pursuant to state law, any reports or record of information received by the local health authority is considered confidential by law.”
She said information is released for medical statistical information without identifying information, but includes the type of a facility, clusters, sex and age demographics, “which we interpret as a conservative application of what the health laws require.”
Concerns over call centers
Officials also refuted reports that call centers are violating orders that are helping fight the coronavirus.
El Paso Fire Chief Mario D’Agostino: “So, in regards to the call centers, we’ve been actively going out and following up on those.”
He said call center operations have been cooperative and the enforcement team hasn’t seen violations, despite repeated visits.
He said call centers have separated break rooms, lunch rooms and removed seating to separate people, as well as making sure cubicles set up to keep workers separated at safe distances.
“We have not seen any violations,” he said.
“We’ve done unannounced inspections and we have not found any to be noncompliant at this time.”
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Deputy Fire Chief Jorge Rodriguez, head of the El Paso Office of Emergency Management, said the compliance task force conducts follow-up inspections.
He also said calls to 311 now are responded to in real time, saying that now, 311 will dispatch the task force to more high-priority and flagrant violations of stay-at-home and social distancing orders.
Rodriguez said the call centers have hand sanitizing equipment and are compliant with regulations.
“Everything seems to be in order,” he said.
D’Agostino said that overall through Tuesday, there were 11,252 inspections in the area, 683 warnings and 17 citations.
He said if there is a repeat offense, “we are going through with citations.”
With blatant violations, such as gatherings at a house or park, “it’s going straight to a citation at that point.”
Opening businesses in El Paso
Margo also discussed opening up the economy.
“Yes, the governor has been talking about opening some parts of the economy,” he said.
The governor’s executive stay-at-home order, issued March 31, expires April 30, unless renewed by the governor, and the city falls under the state’s emergency declaration, the City Attorney’s Office said.
The city’s declaration runs through May 17 and by statute is for only 30 days. However, Margo noted it can end sooner.
He noted extensions only may be done for another 30 days by a unanimous City Council vote.
He said he understands the economic impact of the restrictions.
He said that El Paso had 8,396 unemployment applications filed in March.
“I am convinced we’ll have more in April,” he said, noting he understands the restrictions are impacting the community’s economic health and well as its physical health.
However, he said, until people comply with directives to stay at home and respect social distancing, the city cannot reduce its restrictions.
“We’re still getting thousands of reports of people not complying with the directive now,” he said.
“We recognize the impact on our economy of this pandemic and our orders,” he said, but added that lives are more important than livelihoods.
“We’ve got to take this seriously, ladies and gentlemen,” he said.
He added: “Our emergency order follows the governor’s orders. The county judge and I must follow by statue whatever the state dictates.”
He noted the governor shut down restaurants; “we merely followed his directive.”
Other COVID-19 topics in El Paso
City officials said that while they are receiving information from Fort Bliss on its COVID-19 efforts, they are respecting the post’s orders on information and referred questions to the post.
Rodriguez said: “We do work closely with Fort Bliss, but as they have stated, they cannot share that information publicly. However, we are in coordination with them, but we are going to be respectful in their requirements about how they share information.”
Rodriguez also confirmed the city has “received the Abbott rapid test apparatus,” saying officials hope to have it online soon. The coronavirus-test machine can produce results within 15 minutes.
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However, Ocaranza said the city needs “many machines to test more than one at a time.”
He said there also are going to be other rapid testing machines rolled out that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
“But it is a nice addition to the diagnostic testing that we have,” he said of the device from Abbott Laboratories.
Margo also denied there are any plans to close the bridges between El Paso and Juárez. He noted that maquilas provide medical equipment needed to fight the coronavirus. “There are no discussions, no plans about closing the bridges, period,” he said.
Punishment for violating Stay Home, Work Safe order
To help fight the pandemic, the city is enforcing the Stay Home, Work Safe order, according to its Facebook profile. Not complying with orders could cost individuals up to $1,000 in fines or even jail time.
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COVID-19 signs and symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath. If the symptoms persist, residents should contact their health care provider after warning them they suspect they might have the illness.
For more information, call the 211-COVID hotline from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For referral services, contact 211 and select option six. For more information, visit www.epstrong.org.
Breakdown of El Paso’s positive COVID-19 cases by age
- 12 are 12 and younger
- 14 in their teens
- 70 in their 20s
- 74 in their 30s
- 67 in their 40s
- 70 in their 50s
- 44 in their 60s
- 26 in their 70s
- 9 in their 80s
- 7 in their 90s
Coronavirus safety tips
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website offers safety tips:
- Clean hands often.
- Avoid close contact.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others.
- Cover coughs and sneezes.
- Clean and disinfect.