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Commentary Coronavirus Featured

El Paso continues to make progress on COVID-19, but challenges remain

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El Paso has settled into a “new normal” with COVID-19, with a few hundred new cases each week, hospitalizations inching downward and a slowing rate of vaccinations.

Because of this, we’re going to suspend our weekly data report after this week. If the current trends continue, the reports would convey little new information each week.

This doesn’t mean COVID-19 is over in El Paso, or that El Paso Matters won’t cover developments. We’ll continue to monitor data and medical advice, and we’ll report significant new developments when warranted.

We’ve published these weekly reports for 13 months. We have heard from many of you that you have found them useful. Thank you for the trust you have extended us on this most important issue.

Here is our weekly COVID-19 data report.

New cases

The number of new COVID-19 cases recorded in El Paso last week fell below 400 for the first time since the week of May 3-9, 2020.

It’s important to remember that these numbers are subject to change, because test results from private labs often are reported by the state to local health officials several days late. Last week, we reported that El Paso was showing fewer than 500 weekly cases for the first time in 11 months. Over the last week, late reports from the state have taken the number above 600.

Even though numbers from last week will tick up in the coming days, El Paso’s rate of COVID-19 infections are slowing dramatically. And the illness is primarily striking young people.

For the first time since the pandemic began, more than half the new weekly COVID-19 cases in El Paso were among children. The new infections were particularly pronounced among people 12-19, who accounted for 45% of new coronavirus infections in the past week and were the only age group to see an increase in number of infections in that time.

On the other hand, El Paso reported only 13 new infections among people age 70 and older.

The current trend in El Paso is a testament to the power of vaccines. COVID-19 infections among senior citizens — the group most likely to have been vaccinated — have largely been erased. Infections are highest among children, a group that includes people ineligible for the vaccine (children younger than 12), those who just became eligible for vaccinations (children 12-15) and those with low immunization rates (people 16-19).

Hospitals

As new infections decline, the number of people requiring treatment for COVID-19 in hospitals or intensive care units also is going down.

The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in El Paso has fallen below 100 for the first time since mid-June last year.

Deaths

Even with the decline in new infections, El Pasoans continue to die of COVID-19.

The number of COVID-19 deaths in El Paso varies by source. The El Paso Department of Public Health says 2,590 as of Friday, the Texas Department of State Health Services says 2,681 as of Friday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 2,994 as of May 10.

El Paso has had the highest per-capita COVID-19 death rate of any county in the United States outside the New York metropolitan area, which was devastated early in the pandemic, before treatments were widely available. The bulk of El Paso’s deaths came after September 2020, when therapeutics had improved.

Vaccines

More than 432,000 El Pasoans have now received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and more than 326,000 are considered fully vaccinated. That means more than half of all El Pasoans 16 and older have completed the vaccination schedule necessary to protect against COVID-19.

Children ages 12-15 became eligible for the vaccine last week

Younger adults continue to show high degrees of vaccine hesitancy. While almost four of every five El Pasoans age 65 and older are fully vaccinated, only two in five people under age 50 can make that claim.

Despite expanded eligibility, the number of vaccine first doses administered in El Paso County continues to decline. About 900 of the vaccine recipients last week were ages 12-15.

Cover photo: A teenager received a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at Providence Children’s Hospital last week, shortly after Texas officials gave the go-ahead for people 12-15 to get the shot. (Photo courtesy of the Hospitals of Providence)

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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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