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New COVID-19 infections fall to 20-week low in El Paso

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The number of new weekly COVID-19 infections in El Paso County reached the lowest levels since the early days of fall, a hopeful indication that we may finally be emerging from one of the country’s worst outbreaks.

Despite the decrease in new infections, hospitalizations and deaths remain high, a warning to El Pasoans not to let up on crucial safety practices.

Here’s our weekly COVID-19 data report.

Public Notice: Click to see PDF of Proposed El Paso County Redistricting Maps

New cases

El Paso County recorded fewer than 1,900 new COVID-19 cases this past week, the first time that has happened since the first full week of fall in September and October, 20 weeks ago.

Community spread of COVID-19 appears to be retreating to the levels we saw before the massive eruption of new cases in the fall. 

New infections are going down in part because of ongoing mask mandates and other safety requirements, as well as increasing numbers of people being vaccinated against the novel coronavirus.

But the main reason infections are slowing is likely more stark: more than 120,000 El Pasoans have already been infected with COVID-19, giving them some level of immunity. More than 2,400 El Pasoans have been killed by the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As the pandemic has progressed so far in 2021, we’re seeing a change in the age distribution of new infections. El Pasoans 19 and younger — who were proportionately less affected by the virus in 2020 — are now making up a higher percentage of new cases in 2021.

Although the infection rate is headed in the right direction, COVID-19 presents a severe threat to El Pasoans, especially as more infectious and deadlier variants spread. El Pasoans must continue to wear masks when leaving their home (here’s some great advice from the CDC on making masks more effective); avoid group gatherings with people outside our homes; stay at least six feet away from others when in public; and practice frequent hand washing.

It’s important to remember that El Paso had its first infection wave in July, then new infections declined sharply. We were well-positioned at the end of the summer. Then came the fall. That’s a reminder that we can’t let our guard down.

Hospitalizations

The number of people with COVID-19 who required treatment in hospitals and intensive care units increased over the past week.

Hospital trends generally lag new infections by a couple of weeks, so we should see a decline at the beginning of March. Infections requiring ICU care are more stubborn. It may be several weeks before we see those numbers go down.

Deaths

Although the death toll is well below our fall peak, we are still seeing an El Pasoan die every four hours because of COVID-19.

Sometime in the next couple of days, the El Paso Department of Public Health will confirm the county’s 2,000th COVID-19 death. The media might play that up as some sort of milestone. But El Paso actually surpassed 2,000 deaths sometime in December.

The El Paso Department of Public Health often has taken months to confirm that a death was caused by COVID-19. Data from the state and the CDC has been much more up to date.

The CDC reports that 2,420 El Pasoans died of COVID-19 as of Feb. 13. The Texas Department of State Health Services puts our death toll at 2,295 as of Saturday. Local health officials say we’ve had 2,369 confirmed and suspected COVID-19 deaths as of Saturday.

Vaccines

The massive winter storm across Texas slowed vaccine progress over the past week. El Paso continues to lead the state’s urban counties in getting people vaccinated.

About 113,000 El Pasoans have received at least one vaccine dose as of Saturday, and almost 56,000 have received both doses.

In the coming week, El Paso County will receive its highest number yet of first doses. Most of those vaccines continue to go to the two big hubs run by the city government and University Medical Center.

Vaccines remain limited in Texas to a restricted group: frontline health care workers, people in assisted living centers, people 65 and older, and people 16-64 with health conditions that make them vulnerable to COVID-19 complications.

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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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