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Where El Paso stands after 11 weeks of COVID-19, and what may lie ahead

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Friday marks 11 weeks since El Paso’s first confirmed COVID-19 case, though the infection almost certainly was present before it was officially detected.

Here is what the data tells us about the current state of affairs with COVID-19. We’ll also provide some projections on what the next four weeks could look like if current trends continue.

Testing rates

The number of El Pasoans tested for COVID-19 has been increasing in recent weeks, though our testing rate still lags well behind the national average.

Local testing numbers are confusing because El Paso didn’t track private lab tests, which handle the bulk of the testing, in the earliest weeks of the outbreak. Also, the numbers reflect the number of tests administered, not the number of people tested. People who test positive undergo repeated tests until the get the required negative tests to be declared recovered.

The city has been providing an estimate of total tests in recent weeks, but the accuracy of that number is hard to gauge. State health officials provide a testing number for El Paso County that’s far below the local estimates. We’ll use both numbers for this comparison. (Numbers as of Wednesday, June 3.)

Trends in number of cases

The number of new cases reported each week continues to climb. El Paso officials say that’s due to increased testing, but they’ve also said large gatherings over Easter and Mother’s Day caused a spike in cases.

The growth rate of new cases has stabilized the past four weeks at between 3.3 percent and 4.4 percent average daily increase in new reported cases.

Deaths and hospitalizations

El Paso’s COVID-19 deaths continue to mount, with about three-fourths of the 80 deaths reported as of Monday coming in the past four weeks.

The number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals and intensive care units has been stuck at a high plateau since May 19, though they’ve shown small declines in recent days. (Numbers as of Wednesday, June 3.) As of Wednesday, the hospital region made up of El Paso, Hudspeth and Culberson counties accounted for 7.5 percent of all of the state’s COVID-19 hospitalizations, even though those counties have only 3 percent of Texas’ population.

Projections for the next 4 weeks

Our projections show what would happen in the coming weeks if the past week’s trends continue. Remember, these projections aren’t predictions of what will happen in the future. They’re simply mathematical calculations of what would happen if current trends continue.

Here’s what will happen if new COVID-19 cases continue to grow by an average of 3.3 percent daily for the next four weeks.

If the number of new cases continues on its current trend, the number of COVID-19 cases requiring hospitalization also likely will continue to grow.

Our hospital and ICU projection assumes that cases continue to grow by an average of 3.3 percent a day, and that the percentage of new cases requiring hospital and ICU care continues at current levels.

The Texas Department of State Health Services reported that El Paso, Hudspeth and Culberson counties had only 42 available ICU beds as of Sunday. The current trend would exceed the number of available ICU beds in about three weeks.

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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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