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El Paso health official warns of possible coronavirus exposure at Conference USA basketball tournament in Frisco

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El Paso health officials and their North Texas colleagues have shared information about possible coronavirus exposure during the Conference USA basketball tournaments in Frisco  earlier this month.

The men’s and women’s basketball teams played in the tournament before it was cancelled March 12 as the coronavirus pandemic spread across the country. Three male University of Texas at El Paso employees who returned from travel March 12 latest tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, and two of them went to the university’s basketball facilities the next day, UTEP has said.

Dr. Hector Ocaranza of the Texas Department of Public Health said his office has contacted North Texas health officials about possible coronavirus exposure at the Conference USA basketball tournament March 11-12.

UTEP officials haven’t responded to questions about whether the affected employees were at the Conference USA tournament. But at a news briefing Friday afternoon, Dr. Hector Ocaranza of the El Paso Department of Public Health said his office has talked with North Texas officials about possible coronavirus exposure at the tournament.

“The Department of Public Health made contact with colleagues in North Texas to let them know about the contact and exposure that they had,” Ocaranza said. “We continue collaborating with all the institutions in El Paso and part of our routine epidemiological investigation is notifying those that are exposed to any cases of COVID-19.”

UTEP and Conference USA officials did not immediately respond to questions about the possibility of coronavirus exposure at the tournament.

Three members of a Frisco family tested positive for COVID-19 on March 10, a day before the tournament began. 

Conference basketball tournaments across the country were cancelled as they were underway earlier this month because of coronavirus concerns. It’s not clear if any possible coronavirus exposures have been documented at those tournaments.

The Conference USA tournament was played at the Ford Center, a 12,000-seat arena that’s part of The Star at Frisco, a complex that serves as the Dallas Cowboys’ headquarters.

The UTEP men’s team lost to Marshall in the opening round on March 11 in front of a crowd of 2,061. The women’s team defeated Florida Atlantic in their opening tournament game that week, before a crowd of 1,243.

Fans from El Paso were at both games.

The women’s team was scheduled to play Old Dominion on March 12, but the tournament was cancelled just before the game.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the UTEP men’s game was played without a crowd. March 11 games were played in front of crowds. Conference USA initially said games March 12 and after would be played without crowds, then later decided to cancel the tournament.

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Robert Moore

Robert Moore is the founder and CEO of El Paso Matters. He has been a journalist in the Texas Borderlands since 1986. His work has received a number of top journalism honors including the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, Pulitzer Prize finalist and the Benjamin C. Bradlee Editor of the Year Award. Moore’s work has appeared in the Washington Post, Texas Monthly, ProPublica, National Public Radio, The Guardian and other publications. He has been featured as an expert on border issues by CNN, MSNBC, BBC, CBC and PBS.

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