First, funeral homes had to bring in extra refrigeration for the new coronavirus surge.
Then El Paso County enacted a curfew to try to limit the virus’s spread.
Now, El Paso has surpassed its record-high number of new cases, with at least 1,559 infections reported Sunday.
And a local children’s hospital is taking in patients from the overwhelmed University Medical Center of El Paso, which is struggling to keep up with the Covid-19 surge.
“We are overwhelmed with patients at this point,” UMC spokesman Ryan Mielke said Monday. “However, we have a strong partnership with El Paso Children’s Hospital.”
Mielke said the 9th floor of Children’s is open for non-coronavirus patients from UMC, and the transfers have already started.
Mielke said his hospital has received more than 100 additional medical staff and has set up emergency isolation tents in the parking lots where Covid-19 overflow patients are being sent.
And some of UMC’s medical staff have been infected with coronavirus, too.
“We are not immune by any stretch of the imagination,” Mielke said.
“The bottom line is the coronavirus is spreading fast, and it’s spreading fast throughout our city.”
A 2-week nightly curfew
El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego issued a nightly curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. starting Sunday night and continuing for two weeks.
“The purpose of the curfew is to limit mobility in the community,” Samaniego said in a virtual news conference Sunday night.
He said the test positivity rate and hospitalizations have exploded in recent weeks.
“Currently our hospitals are stretched to capacity,” he said.
The county – which includes the city of El Paso and sits on the southwest border of Texas above Juarez, Mexico – has seen a 160% increase in positivity rate since October 1 and a 300% increase in hospitalizations, Samaniego said.
Samaniego said that the curfew was put in place instead of another stay-at-home order because officials want to minimize the economic impact on businesses and families.
“The curfew is enough to limit the economic consequences on local businesses by allowing the stores to stay open. We carefully thought about the economic impact if we were to impose a full stay-at-home order like we did at the beginning of this process,” he said.
“We know the impact it would have for you not to be able to go to work. So we’re going to do everything possible to continue moving towards the balancing of the economy and making sure that we adhere to public health and everything that is required for us to continue our battle against this very insidious virus.”
Those who don’t comply could face a fine of $500 for not following the order, Samaniego said.
Infections could come from a variety of places
Mayor Dee Margo said that while there hasn’t been one single cause for the recent surge, many cases have been attributed to community spread and people letting their guard down.
“We did an analysis for two weeks on 2,404 cases from October 6 through October 20, and what we found is that 37% of our positives were from visiting large big-box stores, 22.5% were restaurants, and 19% were travel to Mexico,” Margo said.
He said 10% were attributed to parties and reunions, 7.5% were from gyms and only 4% were due to large gatherings.
The mayor urged people to stay at home as much as possible, have only one person go to the store to get essentials, and avoid gatherings, especially as holidays get closer.
“Our message is don’t let down your guard. Wear your face coverings. Maintain your distancing. Avoid large gatherings. Avoid the family gatherings,” Margo said.
On Sunday, the county reported 517 new positive Covid-19 cases for a total of 39,326 confirmed cases, according to the City/County of El Paso Covid-19 website. Three new deaths were also reported, for a total of 575 deaths.
This week, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is sending two 35-person disaster medical assistance teams and a trauma critical care team to Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott’s office said.
The El Paso Convention and Performing Arts Center is being converted into an auxiliary hospital with up to 100 beds to add capacity in the area, Samaniego said.
CNN’s Artemis Moshtaghian, Melissa Alonso, Raja Razek and Brad Parks contributed to this report.