EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – The coronavirus continues to pound El Paso hard, with the City-County Health Department reporting 13 deaths and 994 new infections on Tuesday. Add to that late tests results from the Texas Department of Health and the county has now recorded 76,075 cases and 782 fatalities since the pandemic began.
Local hospitals on Tuesday were treating 1,120 COVID-19 patients, with 313 in intensive care and 202 on ventilators. A total of 10 mobile morgues were supposed to be in operation by midweek to shore up cadaver storage facilities that have been overwhelmed.
But to put the region’s current state of the COVID-19 crisis into perspective, El Paso County, with a population of about 840,000 people, now has more confirmed active cases (34,487) than the neighboring Republic of Mexico (23,284), which has 129 million residents.
“I’m hopeful we’ll hit a plateau very quick. It took the Rio Grande Valley (South Texas) four to five weeks to hit their plateau. We’re heading now into the fifth week” of the current surge, El Paso Mayor Dee Margo said on Tuesday.
Margo insists that the key to bringing the surge under control is for residents to practice prevention, such as wearing masks in public, maintaining social distancing and not travel or gather in large numbers. Also, even those who asymptomatic need to get tested.
“We want everyone to be tested. It gives us a baseline. I expect by Thanksgiving we’ll have close to 600,000 tested. That’ll give us a better baseline to our asymptomatic (patients),” he said.
The mayor also echoed advice handed out a day earlier by County Judge Ricardo Samaniego, who fears yet another COVID-19 spike during the holidays and shopping season.
“As we head into Thanksgiving, please don’t have large gatherings in your homes and please don’t go to Mexico if you don’t have to. It’s imperative that you stay here and maintain” preventive measures, Margo said.
He said South Texas officials told El Paso health authorities that the bulk of their spread during a recent surge originated from home gatherings.
Across the border in Juarez, Chihuahua state health officials said they’re not surprised El Paso has more active cases than all of Mexico because of the disparity in testing.
“It has to do with their resources and testing strategy. […] They have all of the resources in the world. Over there, anybody who wants to can get tested – up to three times a day if they want to,” said Dr. Arturo Valenzuela, head of the state health department in Juarez.
The Mexican border city has recorded 1,704 coronavirus-related fatalities but only confirmed 18,658 infections. That’s less than a quarter of the cases El Paso – a city with half the population of Juarez — has identified.
“Over here we test those with the symptoms of the SARS-2 virus and those who had close contact with persons who have tested positive. That’s a very simple explanation” for the disparity, Valenzuela said.
According to CONACYT, the Mexican federal science agency, Mexico as of Tuesday had 23,284 confirmed active COVID-19 cases, although it estimated the true number of active infections at 42,922. That would put them at just over 8,000 more active cases than El Paso County.