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COVID-19 spike may be tied to El Paso nursing facility


This story has been updated with COVID-19 case reports as of Monday, May 25.

A surge in COVID-19 cases in West-Central El Paso’s 79902 ZIP code may be concentrated at the Mountain View Health and Rehabilitation nursing facility at 1600 Murchison.

Texas National Guard soldiers with disinfecting equipment were in the facility’s parking lot Sunday afternoon. Gov. Greg Abbott announced earlier this month that the Guard would be used to disinfect nursing homes with COVID-19 cases.

Texas National Guard soldiers unloaded supplies on Sunday at Mountain View Health and Rehabilitation, a nursing care facility in West-Central El Paso. (Robert Moore/El Paso Matters)

A spokeswoman for Mountain View’s parent company, Creative Solutions in HealthCare, asked that questions be submitted in writing but has not yet responded.

Jeff Wayne, whose 82-year-old mother Sonja has been at Mountain View for nine months, said his family was told recently that she had tested positive for COVID-19 after an earlier negative test, but wasn’t showing any symptoms.

“And then today, when I went into work, I found out that another person whose mother is there also tested positive,” Wayne said.

Mountain View has 139 certified beds and a one-star rating (out of a possible five) from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, indicating it’s “much below average.”

The number of confirmed cases in the ZIP code exploded from 18 on May 13 to 117 on Monday. El Paso health officials reported 74 new cases in 79902 between Friday and Monday, accounting for almost a quarter of all new cases in the county those days.

El Paso officials haven’t responded to questions on whether the surge of new cases are spread throughout the ZIP code or clustered in a few areas. They issued a statement Sunday afternoon that 216 COVID-19 cases have been reported at 21 elder-care facilities. The city has refused to name facilities, citing longstanding policy, though other jurisdictions routinely identify facilities with clusters of COVID-19 cases.

The city identified nine other “clusters” in the news release:

·     General businesses (40 facilities, 187 cases)

·     Healthcare facilities (26 facilities, 180 cases)

·     Correctional-Detention facilities (six facilities, 102 cases)

·     Government (13 facilities, 52 cases)

·     Call centers (five facilities, 33 cases)

·     Big Box stores (six facilities, 15 cases)

·     Construction (four facilities, 12 cases)

·     Schools (four facilities, 12 cases)

·     Shelters (one facility, four cases)

The clusters identified Sunday account for 813 COVID-19 cases, about a third of all cases in the county.

Dr. Hector Ocaranza, the city-county health authority, said the clusters were identified with the help of contact tracers, who gather information on who people with COVID-19 may have been exposed to while they were ill.

“When one (cluster) is found, in many ways is like setting off an alarm. Once the alarm goes off, you must respond quickly because every moment wasted will allow the virus to spread further. The faster the infected individuals are identified and isolated, the better chance we have to reduce and control the spread,” Ocaranza said. 

The 79902 ZIP code now has the second-highest infection rate in El Paso County, with 49 cases per 10,000 residents as of Saturday. The highest infection rate continues to be the 79853 ZIP code around Tornillo, with about 63 cases per 10,000 residents.

Mountain View Health and Rehabilitation had reported on Wednesday that it was retesting all residents and staff for COVID-19 because tests conducted May 9-10 had been contaminated. Media reports on May 15 said an unspecified number of residents and staff had tested positive for COVID-19. Mountain View officials haven’t responded to a request for comment.

Below is a map that shows COVID-19 infections by ZIP code in El Paso and Doña Ana counties. Hover your cursor over a ZIP code for information.

Cover photo: Texas National Guard soldiers with disinfecting equipment were visible on Sunday outside Mountain View Health and Rehabilitation, a nursing care facility at 1600 Murchison in West-Central El Paso. (Robert Moore/El Paso Matters)

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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