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El Paso’s reported COVID-19 cases are doubling every 2-5 days. Here’s how things could look in a month.

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UPDATE: El Paso reported 96 COVID-19 cases on Friday, nearly doubling the 50 reported on Tuesday. That continues the rapid doubling rate El Paso has experienced since the first case was reported March 13.

I’m still not sure El Pasoans fully grasp how bad things are going to get here over the next month. Sixty-eight cases, the total number of cases reported in El Paso as of Wednesday, is a small number, after all. But that number is going to grow rapidly.

I looked at the doubling rate of COVID-19 infections in El Paso since the first case was reported on March 13. It has taken two to five days for each doubling of the number of confirmed cases, which is how we got from 1 to 68 cases in 19 days. Epidemics and pandemics grow exponentially.

If El Paso’s COVID-19 infections double every 4 days

The last doubling was Tuesday, when we reached 50 cases. So let’s use that as a base. It’s a nice round number. Let’s use a four-day doubling rate for this exercise. That means by Saturday we’ll be at 100 cases (we seem well on our way to that with Wednesday’s 18 new confirmed cases.)

What happens over the next month? The chart at the top of the page tells that story. If the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases doubles every four days, El Paso will have reached 12,800 cases by May 2. Many will have required hospitalization, including some needing intensive care. And some will have died.

If El Paso’s COVID-19 infections double every 3 days

Now let’s look at what happens with a three-day doubling rate, which is the mid-range of what we’ve seen so far.

A three-day doubling rate means that we’d be at 100 cases on Friday. Think that’s unlikely? That would require an added 32 cases Thursday and Friday, which would be a 47 percent two-day increase in the total number of cases. We just had a 36 percent one-day increase on Wednesday.

So if we’re at 100 cases on Friday and that doubles every three days, this is what the next month looks like:

Doubling the number of coronavirus-caused infections every three days would mean that more than 100,000 El Pasoans — one in every eight of us — would have contracted the virus within six weeks of the first confirmed case in our community.

You can make a difference

I think (and hope) that first scenario of doubling every four days is more likely. And it’s certainly possible that the additional restrictions in place since March 24 could flatten the curve and slow the doubling rate even more. But we won’t know that for at least two weeks.

Under any likely scenario, we’re looking at caseloads in the thousands by the end of this month. And we almost certainly will see El Pasoans dying of COVID-19, maybe in large numbers.

That’s why all the restrictions and safety recommendations matter so much. Frankly, more restrictions seem likely to me.

Assume every person you have contact with has been infected. Assume every surface you touch is harboring coronavirus. The good news is that some stringent hygiene practices – frequent hand-washing, not touching your face, regularly disinfecting surfaces – seem to be effective in killing the virus or preventing its spread.

But nothing is more important than limiting contact with others. That’s why the “Stay Home, Work Safe” order is important.

We all have to go to the store for food and necessities. Limit such trips to one a week. Don’t take family members or partners with you on shopping trips unless you’re a single parent of young children and have no choice. Exercise near your house. I’m sure others can offer some great suggestions for limiting our exposure to others.

These next few weeks are going to be very painful. But we can each take steps to protect ourselves and, in doing so, protect our families and our neighbors. Stay in touch with loved ones, but with safety your first priority.

Stay safe, El Paso. Please.

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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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