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El Paso hits new one-day high in COVID-19 cases as crisis expands

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El Paso County reported 233 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, a new single-day high that indicates a deepening public health crisis. The number of people hospitalized with effects of the novel coronavirus also is nearing new highs.

With one day remaining in the week, El Paso has reported 877 new COVID-19 cases, by far the highest weekly total to date. El Paso has reported more than 100 new cases in six of the past seven days. Prior to that, El Paso had reached triple digits in single-day cases seven times in three months.

COVID-19 cases have erupted across the state in the past 10 days. On Friday, Gov. Greg Abbott ordered bars across Texas closed and reduced the number of people allowed in restaurants from 75 percent of capacity to 50 percent.

“At this time, it is clear that the rise in cases is largely driven by certain types of activities, including Texans congregating in bars,” Abbott said in a statement. “The actions in this executive order are essential to our mission to swiftly contain this virus and protect public health.”

El Paso health officials said they’ve seen a significant increase in cases among people in their 20s and 30s. “Early reports suggest that these two age groups appear to have contracted the virus while out in public and not taking the proper safety precautions to include practicing social distancing, frequent hand washing with soap and water and wearing a face covering,” the city officials said in a news release Friday.

Dr. Hector Ocaranza, the city-county health authority, said he was “alarmed” at the recent surge in COVID-19 cases. “We are still investigating these spikes to get a more comprehensive understanding of the source of exposure. Initial reports indicate there are at least three clusters in the latest spike,” he said.

El Paso officials, unlike health officials in other communities and states, refuse to identify locations of COVID-19 clusters. Ocaranza would only say the clusters are in an elderly care facility, a detention facility and a health-care facility. No numbers were provided.

The detention facility is likely the Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center near El Paso International Airport, which reported 29 new COVID-19 cases between June 17 and Wednesday, according to El Paso Matters’ tracking of ICE’s website.

Instead of identifying places with clusters of COVID-19 cases, El Paso’s Department of Public Health has reported clusters in broad categories. But officials have not updated its cluster report in two weeks. Much of the data health officials provide online hasn’t been updated in at least 11 days. A city spokeswoman didn’t respond to a question on the lack of updates.

Officials reported on Friday that 118 people are now hospitalized with COVID-19, near the previous high of 119 on May 22.

El Paso hospitals still have capacity for more COVID-19 patients, but the large surge of new cases this week likely means that the county will see a sharp rise in hospitalization in coming days.

Health officials say 126 El Pasoans have died of COVID-19 since April. Total confirmed cases are now more than 5,200, with 1,541 cases of active COVID-19 reported by public health officials.

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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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