A man in his 80s with underlying health conditions died of COVID-19 in an El Paso hospital on Thursday, the county’s first death in the coronavirus pandemic, Mayor Dee Margo said.
“We feel very sad that we have this death in our community. We will continue being vigilant about how the virus behaves in our community,” said Dr. Hector Ocaranza, the El Paso city-county health authority. Ocaranza said the man had underlying health conditions.
Health officials reported 33 new positive COVID-19 cases on Thursday, bringing the total to 225 since the first case was reported on March 13. Officials said about 3,500 COVID-19 tests have been conducted in El Paso, Ocaranza said.
Officials said 48 people with COVID-19 were hospitalized, eight more than the day before. Nineteen were in intensive care, seven more than on Wednesday. Six people were on ventilators, up from three the day before.
Neighboring Ciudad Juarez has reported 10 COVID-19 deaths and 26 total cases.
Despite the death and newly reported infections, the rate of increase in positive COVID-19 cases appears to be slowing in El Paso, a possible sign that El Pasoans are heeding rules and guidelines designed to slow the spread of the disease.
Number of cases tied to large gatherings
Mayor Dee Margo said a number of cases have been tied to large gatherings being conducted in defiance of public health orders.
“We’ve had two incidents of these types of gatherings in the last week in which there was a group of 20 year olds and a group of 40 year olds. In one group, five were positive and in the other, seven positive cases,” Margo said.
Ocaranza said 11 cases were tied to a health-care facility, which he didn’t identify.
Health orders prohibit public gatherings, with a handful of exceptions for grocery shopping, health care and work at businesses that have been declared essential. Parks are closed.
Margo and Ocaranza worried that El Pasoans will be tempted to gather with friends and family for Easter and other Holy Week celebrations. They strongly urged people to stay home.
“I want to remind the public that in order to protect family and friends from this highly contagious COVID-19 virus, gatherings and picnicking at city or state parks during Easter weekend, it is not allowed. This includes city-owned and hike and bike trails, playgrounds, basketball courts, dog parks or skate parks,” Margo said.
Some possible hopeful signs
Although the number of additional cases each day is shocking, some hopeful signs are emerging in the data.
The number of new reported COVID-19 cases grew rapidly — by more than 20 percent a day on average — in the two weeks after the first case was reported March 13. But the growth rate has slowed the past two weeks, with cases growing by about 13 percent a day on average in the past seven days, according to an El Paso Matters analysis of Department of Public Health data.
The number of reported cases was doubling about every three days in the first two weeks of reported cases. But in the past week the doubling rate has slowed to about every four days.
The slowing growth rate could be an indication that El Pasoans are reducing social contact — whether on their own or because of government order — and adopting other hygiene and safety measures recommended by health experts.
Correction: An earlier version of the growth-rate chart had incorrect numbers because of a calculation error. The numbers have been updated.