Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations have risen sharply in El Paso in recent weeks.
KTEP News Director Angela Kocherga told Texas Standard that hospitals there reached capacity over the weekend. The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations has grown by 300% over the last few weeks, and there’s been “a scramble” to find enough hospital beds.
“We had one in three [patients] being admitted, and of course now it’s reached that terrible capacity level,” she said. “It’s a very dire situation.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is sending help, in the form of two 35-person Disaster Medical Assistance Teams, according to a news release. El Paso’s convention center is also turning into a field hospital to expand the number of available beds. And some hospitals told Kocherga they’re considering airlifting ICU patients, on a volunteer basis, to be treated elsewhere in the state.
But even with expanded hospital capacity, Kocherga said there’s still a need for more medical staff.
“Our staff here is really taxed,” she said.
Kocherga suspects one possible reason for the rise in cases is “COVID fatigue”; people might be letting their guard down after months of vigilance about social distancing and mask-wearing. Also, young people are gathering at events like football games. And Kocherga said two large gatherings took place at an El Paso venue on Saturday – a quinceanera and a wedding reception – even though the city and county were supposed to have rescinded waivers for large gatherings as cases rose.
“Clearly that didn’t happen. There were sheriff deputies on the scene having a heated discussion with the manager there but nothing happened,” she said. “They left without shutting it down.”
Now, El Paso is under a two-week curfew effective Oct. 25, from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. During the day, residents have been told to stay home except for essential activities. El Paso’s public health director has called this “a critical moment” for the city.
Kocherga says voters have no need to worry; voting is considered an essential activity.
“[The city and county] want people to know they can go to polling places and it’s safe,” she said. “There are safeguards in place.”