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El Paso is 9 weeks into COVID-19. Here’s where we stand

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Cover illustration by Ana Gaby Becerra
Data in this story is the most recently available as of Wednesday, May 20.

Friday marks nine weeks since El Paso’s first reported COVID-19 case, and two weeks since Texas began efforts to reopen the economy.

Here’s where El Paso stands in its efforts to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Number of new cases growing with expanded testing

As we’ve said for several weeks, the number of COVID-19 infections in El Paso has been underestimated because of extremely limited testing. Those testing numbers began to expand last week as Gov. Greg Abbott sent additional testing resources. Not surprisingly, 151 positive tests were reported on Thursday, almost twice the previous high.

El Paso’s testing rate is still far below the national average. El Paso officials estimated that 21,000 people had been tested as of Wednesday; the state puts the number at 16,434. That puts El Paso County’s testing rate at 2 to 2.5 percent of the population; the national rate is 3.8 percent, according to the COVID-19 Tracking Project. El Paso officials say their goal is to test 5 percent of the population in coming weeks.

With that in mind, here is the number of reported new cases each week since the first case was reported March 13.

Even with expanded testing, the growth rate of new cases was about 4.4 percent a day on average last week, well below growth rates at the beginning of the outbreak.

COVID-19 deaths

El Paso health officials reported 13 new COVID-19 deaths between last Friday and Thursday, the highest weekly total so far.

What’s happening at El Paso’s hospitals

The number of hospitalizations and intensive care admissions due to COVID-19 in El Paso climbed in the first two weeks of April, when the Department of Public Health first began reporting such data. Many of these were likely infections contracted before the city and county “Stay Home, Work Safe” orders shut down much of the movement in El Paso.

The number of hospital and ICU admissions initially peaked on April 15, declined for a few days and then generally held steady until April 29, when they shot up again. The numbers have stayed stubbornly high since.

Where COVID-19 is hitting

COVID-19 is not spread evenly across El Paso and Doña Ana counties. Some areas have been harder hit than others. The high infection rate in the Chaparral, N.M., area is due to an outbreak at a private detention facility.

Hover your cursor over a ZIP code for more detail.

Reduction in mobility

Google has been releasing mobility data as a tool for public health officials to determine effectiveness of efforts to reduce social contacts. The dataset compares recent movements to different types of locations to movements in January and February. The latest report is from May 9.

El Paso’s mobility reduction has been generally similar to the United States and Texas, with the exception of parks, where our decline has been among the steepest in the country. El Paso was one of the few major cities to close parks completely in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. Parks remain closed, except for hiking and biking trails.

The economic fallout

Workforce Solutions Borderplex reports that more than 56,000 people in the El Paso area have filed unemployment claims since mid-March. That’s one out of every six jobs that El Pasoans had in February

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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. He spent most of his career at the El Paso Times, serving in a variety of leadership roles. His work has received a number of top journalism honors including Pulitzer Prize finalist, the Burl Osborne award for editorial leadership, the James Madison Award from the Texas Freedom of Information Foundation, the Jack Douglas Award from Texas Associated Press Managing Editors and the Frank W. Mayborn Award for Community Leadership from the Texas Press Association. In 2013, he was the recipient of the Benjamin C. Bradlee Editor of the Year Award from the National Press Association. As a freelance journalist, 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 the border by CNN, MSNBC, BBC, CBC and PBS.

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