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State health call center in El Paso closes because of COVID-19 case

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A Texas Health and Human Services Commission call center in El Paso’s Lower Valley has been closed temporarily after an employee tested positive for COVID-19, an agency employee in El Paso said.

HHSC spokeswoman Christine Mann would only say the “HHSC office at 215 Padres Drive in El Paso is closed for maintenance” and would reopen April 20. When asked if the closure was connected to COVID-19, Mann simply repeated her prior statement.

But the El Paso HHSC employee, who asked not to be identified because he or she wasn’t authorized to speak publicly, said the closure came in response to an employee testing positive for the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

“An employee tested positive who works at that office but had not been to the office since April 3. They decided to close it until next Monday, but mind you there were at least 48 people working there since April 3,” the employee said.

The call center on Padres is used to conduct phone interviews with people about Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits, the employee said.

The call center is the second HHSC facility in El Paso to be impacted by COVID-19. At least 11 COVID-19 cases have been traced to the agency’s El Paso Psychiatric Center, El Paso Matters reported last week. Those cases involved both patients and employees at the center.

HHSC wouldn’t comment on the outbreak because it was barred by law from discussing patient or employee health, Mann said.

City health officials would only say a health-care facility it wouldn’t identify had an outbreak of 11 cases. But multiple health-care and legal sources, who asked not to be identified because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly, identified the facility as the El Paso Psychiatric Center, 4615 Alameda.

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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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