El Paso gets trailers to meet possible COVID-19 death surge

EL PASO, Texas (AP) — Five trailers from the Federal Emergency Management Administration have been brought to El Paso to help accommodate the surge of COVID-19 fatalities in the border city, officials said Thursday.

Three of the trailers were staged at the El Paso County Medical Examiner’s Office while two were being held in reserve, said Jorge Rodriguez, the city’s emergency management coordinator.

The Texas Funeral Service Commission also has been asked to send representatives to make an assessment of the needs of the area’s funeral homes and mortuaries, he said.

Twenty-two more COVID-19 deaths were reported Thursday in El Paso County, bringing the county’s death toll for the eight-month pandemic to 639.

Meanwhile, 1,920 new cases of the coronavirus that causes the disease were reported in the county Thursday, a significant increase from the 1,537 new cases reported Wednesday, Mayor Dee Margo said. Margo also walked back the figure of 3,100 new cases he reported Wednesday, blaming the error on “a multiple-day data dump.”

El Paso restaurant patrons are circumventing an order closing kitchens at 9 p.m. by leaving and gathering again at homes and other places, fueling a recent wave of COVID-19 cases in the border city and defeating the purposes of the curfew to disperse restaurant gatherings, Margo said.

That mirrors the experience in the Lower Rio Grande Valley that occurred earlier in the pandemic for about 2 1/2 months, Margo said.

“It is imperative that we stop doing this,” he said.

He said other factors in the spread have been fanned by people shopping as a group at crowded retail stores and by activities across the border in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.
“We’ve got to understand that our behavior, our actions, are what will curtail the spread.

They will not end the pandemic of this virus, but they will curtail the spread,” Margo said.

COVID-19 hospitalizations for the county totaled 1,003 on Thursday, down by 38 from the day before, and 292 of those were under intensive care, down 19 from the day before. “But it’s still not good,” Margo said at an afternoon briefing.

The El Paso-area coronavirus surge has formed a significant part of the statewide COVID-19 trend. State health officials reported 8,332 new cases Thursday, down from 9,048 Wednesday but otherwise higher than any figure since Aug. 11, bringing the total for the outbreak to 934,994. Of those, an estimated 116,225 cases were active, the most since Aug. 23, with 5,954 COVID-19 cases requiring hospitalization, the most since Aug. 19.

The true number of infections is likely higher because many people haven’t been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick.

Meanwhile, 133 more people died of COVID-19, the Texas Department of State Health Services reported Thursday, bringing the state’s pandemic death toll to 18,453.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and a cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

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