El Paso saw a decline in new COVID-19 cases for the first time in five weeks, though new infections remain alarmingly above previous peaks. But the number of new deaths announced shattered the previous weekly high and for the first time included a teenager.

El Paso has reported more than 8,600 new COVID-19 cases in the past five weeks, double the total cases reported in the first 14 weeks of the pandemic. 

Here’s El Paso Matters’ weekly COVID-19 report.

New COVID-19 cases

El Paso County reported 1,839 new COVID-19 cases in the past week, the first time in three weeks that number has been below 2,000. However, the past week numbers are three times higher than the county had seen before the explosion of new cases that began in late June.

People in their 20s and 30s accounted for almost half the new cases in the first four weeks of the current surge, but that changed in the past week. People in their 20s and 30s comprised 39 percent of new cases in the past week. People over 70 made up 12 percent of new cases in the past week, compared to 9 percent of cases in all prior weeks.

COVID-19 infections in El Pasoans under 50 have more than tripled in the past five weeks. People over 50 have seen a 164 percent increase in COVID-19 infections in that time.

El Paso’s seven-day rolling positivity rate — reported positive tests as a percentage of all tests conducted in the prior seven days — was 11.9 percent Saturday, above the 10 percent level that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has said is a “warning flag.” However, El Paso’s seven-day positivity rate is down from a peak of 16 percent earlier this week.

While community spread and infections stemming from close contact with someone with COVID-19 continue to make up the bulk of new reported cases, 280 new cases in the past week were tied to so-called “clusters,” facilities reporting groups of cases. Nursing homes reported 62 new cases among staff and 33 among residents. Health-care facilities reported 56 new cases among staff and 27 among patients who were infected at the facility while being treated for something else.

Twenty new cases were reported among employees at schools.

The Department of Public Health does not provide specific locations of clusters.

Hospitalizations and deaths

El Paso announced 42 new COVID-19 deaths in the past week, by far the highest total since the pandemic began. About a third of the 221 deaths COVID-19 deaths reported in El Paso since the pandemic began were announced in the past two weeks. It sometimes takes the Department of Public Health several seeks to identify a death as related to COVID-19.

Officials announced on Saturday that a teen female had died, the first time El Paso reported a COVID-19 death of someone under 20. El Paso Matters reported on Thursday that the family of 19-year-old Dariana Rubio had been told by doctors that she died Monday of COVID-19 complications tied to asthma. It’s not clear if the death reported the Department of Public Health on Saturday was Rubio or another teen.

Sixty-one of El Paso’s deaths were nursing home residents, accounting for just over a quarter of all announced COVID-19 deaths.

The numbers of COVID-19 patients in hospitals and intensive care units reached new highs again in the past week. The number of COVID-19 patients being treated in intensive care units dropped below 100 on Saturday for the first time since July 15, then shot back up to 108 on Sunday.

The Texas Department of State Health Services reported Sunday that the three-county region that includes El Paso, Hudspeth and Culberson counties had only eight ICU beds available, the lowest since the pandemic began.

Where COVID-19 is spreading

Not surprisingly, the areas being hardest hit by COVID-19 in our region are those with higher proportions of people in their 20s and 30s, those who have had the most infections in the past five weeks.

In El Paso, that means ZIP codes in the eastern part of the county. The ZIP codes 79927, 79928 and 79938 all have per-capita infection rates that are 24 percent higher than the El Paso County rate.

The rate in 79938 is pushed up by COVID-19 cases reported at the Rogelio Sanchez State Jail and the El Paso County Jail Annex. Likewise, the high rate in the 79901 ZIP code in Downtown El Paso is driven in large part by cases at the county jail.

Robert Moore is the founder and CEO of El Paso Matters. He has been a journalist in the Texas Borderlands since 1986.