The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in El Paso is growing at a rate that doubles almost every three days. I shared some mathematical models recently that showed the alarming numbers we could face if that trend continues.
El Paso officials reported 106 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Saturday, with 26 people currently hospitalized, including eight in intensive care.
But the trend doesn’t have to continue, and it shouldn’t as long as the vast majority of El Pasoans follow the “Stay Home, Work Safe” order as well as self-care guidance from health officials. Of course, compliance with the order that took effect March 25 has been far from universal. That’s why the city and county tightened restrictions even further in recent days.
We’ll start to get some idea of how effective these orders have been on April 9. At that point, 14 full days will have passed since local governments first began seriously restricting movement of El Pasoans. Fourteen days is the outer end of what scientists believe to be the incubation period of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
If we’ve had widespread compliance with the “stay home” orders, we should see a slowing in the growth of new COVID-19 cases. If we don’t see a slowing in growth rates in the days following April 9, it will indicate El Pasoans haven’t been complying with the order and more restrictions will be likely.
Flattening the curve
This chart shows why compliance with safety guidelines and government orders matters so much.
The blue line shows how many cases we’d have at the end of the month if the current trend continues. The orange line shows how the current trends could be reduced with widespread compliance. This is what health officials mean when they talk about “flattening the curve.”
These numbers aren’t predictions. They’re simply mathematical projections of two scenarios. The blue line assumes current trends continue, meaning the number of cases will rise by 23.6 percent a day on average. The orange line uses a model from the University of Pennsylvania, which estimates that a 30 percent reduction in social contact will slow the doubling rate of cases from just over every three days currently in El Paso to just more than every five days. (The model also estimates, based on the 26 people hospitalized with COVID-19 on Saturday, that the true number of infections in El Paso is close to 1,000.)
You can see that thousands of El Pasoans are likely to become infected this month, even if mitigation efforts work well. But thousands more will become sick in the coming weeks if we don’t slow the growth rate of COVID-19 cases.
How to protect yourself — and your community
The Centers for Disease control and Prevention has a series of recommendations for reducing your risk of being infected with coronavirus. That now includes covering your nose and mouth with a cloth face cover when around others.
El Paso city and county governments have orders in place that largely restrict people to their homes. Exceptions are permitted to shop for groceries and other necessities; to go to work at a job deemed essential under the orders; and to go outside for exercise or to walk pets.
Health officials have repeatedly asked that only one household member go shopping and shopping trips be minimized as much as possible. Stores like Walmart and Target have begun limiting the numbers of people allowed in stores at any given time.
Parks and hiking or biking trails are closed, though people can still walk, run or ride bikes in other areas.
Cover photo: People lined up outside the West El Paso Walmart on Saturday, the first day the store implemented restrictions on numbers allowed inside in an effort to reduce exposure to coronavirus. (Robert Moore/El Paso Matters)