Samples will be tested for COVID-19 in the Panther machine at the UMC laboratory. The Panther, which can run about 500 samples in 24 hours, can also test for other viral infections. Some elements in this photo have been digitally blurred to protect the privacy of patients. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

El Paso reported 1,161 new COVID-19 cases Thursday morning, a horrific number in a deepening public health crisis that is threatening countless lives.

The number of new positive tests reported by the Department of Public Health shattered the previous daily high of 831 on Oct. 16. Before this month, the highest single-day count was 441 on July 19.

The city on Thursday reported 571 people hospitalized with COVID-19 and 169 in intensive care units. Those numbers are likely to explode in the next few weeks as many of those infected grow more ill.

In El Paso, 1.6% of people infected with COVID-19 have died of the disease, according to health records. If that average holds, 18 of the new cases announced Thursday will die in the coming weeks. 

El Paso has reported 567 deaths to COVID-19, a number that has grown fairly slowly in recent weeks. However, the Department of Public Health is investigating 155 other suspected COVID-19 deaths, an increase of 33 so far this week.

The New York Times tracks COVID-19 hot spots and reported Thursday morning that El Paso had the 17th-highest per capita rate of new cases among U.S. metropolitan areas over the prior two weeks, and the highest rate among metro areas with more than 400,000 people. The Times report does not include the numbers announced by the city on Thursday. The Times tracker also reported that El Paso had the 12th-fastest growth rate of new cases in the past week, with Las Cruces 13th. El Paso had the highest growth rate over the past week for metro areas over 400,000 people.

Metrics for key indicators of slowing disease spread — quick turnaround of test results, rapidly reaching people who may have been in contact with someone who tested positive — have shown steep declines in recent days. 

The city looks at the percentage of test results returned to individuals within 72 hours. The seven-day rolling average was at 82% on Oct. 6 but had plummeted to 38.8% on Thursday. 

Contact tracing is one of the most important measures for slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus. Health workers ask someone who tested positive for a list of people they have been in contact with in recent days, then notify those people that they may have been exposed. Timely contact tracing allows people who may have been exposed to the disease to isolate themselves and get tested.

The city tracks the number of identified contacts who are notified of their potential exposure within 48 hours. That figure was at 95% on Aug. 31 and 80% on Oct. 10. It had plunged to 38% on Wednesday.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

Cover photo: Samples wait to be tested for COVID-19 in the Panther machine at the University Medical Center laboratory. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

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