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‘In a crisis stage,’ El Paso issues curfew

Hospitalizations spike, filling ICUs to capacity

Daniel Borunda

El Paso Times USA TODAY NETWORK

EL PASO, Texas – The El Paso civic center will be converted into a medical care site and some patients will be flown to other cities as local hospitals are being inundated with COVID-19 patients.

El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego on Sunday evening issued a stay at-home order with a daily curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. unless going to work or going to an essential service. Violation of the order is punishable by a $500 fine.

“We are in a crisis stage,” Samaniego said, adding that hospitals and intensive care units were filling to capacity.

The curfew is intended to help slow the spread of the virus by reducing the number of people out in public.

As of Sunday morning, a record 786 patients were hospitalized for COVID-19 in El Paso, an increase of 71 patients from the day before, and the number of known active cases was a record with 11,321, according to city-county health data.

El Paso County saw a new record high in coronavirus cases: 1,443 new cases were reported Monday morning, and one new death.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Sunday that the Texas Division of Emergency Management will set up an emergency care site with hospital beds, equipment and medical personnel at the civic center this week.

The civic center site will have a capacity of 50 beds and can expand to 100 beds, if needed, the office of the governor said.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is deploying two 35-member disaster medical assistance teams and a trauma critical care team to El Paso, Abbott said. The teams will arrive this week.

El Paso public health officials on Sunday again issued a plea for residents to stay home for two weeks to help curb coronavirus infections.

“In less than three weeks we’ve spiked from 259 to 786 COVID-related hospitalizations – a 300% increase. If we continue on this trend, we risk detrimental effects to our entire healthcare system,” El Paso Public Health Director Angela Mora said in a statement.

“For the sake of those hospitalized and the front-line healthcare workers working tirelessly each day to care for them, we ask you to please stay home for two weeks and eliminate your interactions with those outside your household until we can flatten the curve,” she said.

The increase in COVID-19 patients means there are fewer hospital beds for other medical emergencies, including heart attacks, strokes and traffic accidents.

The governor’s office said the state has sent more than 900 medical personnel to El Paso, and some will staff the auxiliary medical unit in the civic center.

University Medical Center of El Paso has received 71 nurses, 15 respiratory therapists, three doctors and six nurse practitioners from the state, the county run hospital said in a statement.

UMC is requesting another 100 nurses as the number of patients and the need for beds grow.

UMC and other hospitals in El Paso will offer critical-care patients the opportunity to be flown to hospitals in other Texas cities. As many as 20 patients every 24 hours would be flown to other cities, UMC officials said. The decision to be taken out of town would be voluntarily and made by patients. The stay is meant to be temporary, and patients would later be returned to El Paso.

The state of Texas also is sending three to four medical tent hospitals with staff and equipment, UMC said.

UMC already has added more than 80 beds and is working to add more beds at other sites, officials said.

A request by the city to the federal government to use William Beaumont Army Medical Center beds for civilians was denied, UMC said in a statement Saturday. A decision to use the Army hospital in Fort Bliss would have to come from a higher level, UMC added.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, said in separate statements that they called Assistant Defense Secretary Kenneth Rapuano on Sunday to ask him that Beaumont be opened to help relieve pressure on El Paso hospitals.

El Paso has had 575 people die from COVID-19 since March.

The rolling seven-day average positivity rate is 13.47%, and 19% of people testing positive have shown no symptoms, according to local health data.

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The state is sending three to four medical mobile units, which are tents with staff and equipment, to El Paso, Texas, to help fight the surge in coronavirus cases. SAMUEL GAYTAN/USA TODAY NETWORK

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More than 200 vehicles line up for drive-thru coronavirus testing in far East El Paso, Texas, on Oct. 14. ARON E. MARTINEZ/USA TODAY NETWORK

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