The number of new COVID-19 cases in El Paso this past week rose for the first since early August, an indication that Labor Day gatherings two weeks ago may have fanned viral embers.
Health officials expected the increase, but it’s still worrisome. Several medical experts have told me that a Labor Day flare-up could set the stage for a difficult fall.
Hospitalizations also increased this past week, ending a downward trend that started in early August.
Here’s our weekly COVID-19 data summary
El Paso reported 722 new COVID-19 cases in the past week, a 33 percent increase over revised figures from the prior week. That ended five consecutive weeks of declines in new cases.
Health officials reported that El Paso had 2,979 active COVID-19 cases as of Saturday, the highest so far in September.
El Paso’s number of new cases the past week is similar to where we were in mid-June, just before an explosion of summer cases. Health experts warned of a resurgence of cases after Labor Day. Holiday gatherings in the past have planted viral seeds that continued to spread for several weeks.
We’re unlikely to see case numbers like the summer peak, where we regularly saw more than 300 new cases reported every day. That’s because so many El Pasoans have already been infected with the virus, making them likely immune to reinfection. The virus has fewer targets.
But health officials have told me that we don’t need to reach those summer numbers to put a strain on hospitals in the fall and early winter. That’s because flu season is coming, which historically means hospital beds start filling up in November. A continued modest increase in COVID-19 cases and a moderate flu season could quickly strain hospital resources.
That’s why doctors are asking that everyone over the age of 6 months get vaccinated against the flu. Minimizing influenza infections is crucial to protecting hospital resources.
One final note on new case numbers. The state continues to struggle to provide timely notification to local health departments about new COVID-19 cases.
This past week, the state reported more than 140 COVID-19 positive test results from prior weeks. More than 50 of those were from the week of Sept. 6-12. That week, health officials reported that El Paso had fewer than 500 new COVID-19 cases for the first time in three months. With the delayed reporting by the state, that’s no longer true. El Paso still has not had fewer than 500 new weekly cases since June 7-13.
The number of new cases reported for this past week is likely to grow over the next few weeks as the state continues to report delayed test results.
The number of El Paso hospitalized with COVID-19 was 138 Friday and Saturday, the highest so far in September. Based on past trends, that number is likely to continue rising over at least the next week as people infected over Labor Day become sicker and require hospitalization.
The number of COVID-19 cases requiring treatment in intensive care units has been in a narrow range between the mid-40s and mid-50s for about five weeks. That’s a promising sign that improving treatments are keeping people out of the ICU.
The state says El Paso recorded its 500th COVID-19 death this past week, though the El Paso Department of Public Health was still reporting 489 deaths as of Saturday. We are the seventh Texas county to cross the tragic 500 death threshold. Three of those — Hidalgo, Cameron and El Paso — are counties that border Mexico and have high levels of poverty and low levels of health insurance.
Counties on the U.S.-Mexico border account for 9 percent of Texas’ population and 23 percent of its COVID-19 deaths.