Editor’s note: This story has been updated with information provided at a news conference Thursday afternoon.
EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – The City of El Paso is planning further restrictions on public activity after a huge one-day spike in new COVID-19 infections.
A total of 1,161 new infections are and four additional deaths are being reported on Thursday, meaning 36,025 have gotten sick and 567 have died during the pandemic. El Paso also set a new record for active cases with 9,406.
“Today’s spike is part of an overall increase in cases seen over the last month due in part to ongoing community spread. For this reason, the Mayor, the Department of Public Health and Office of Emergency Management implemented further restrictions to slow the spread; and additional restrictions are under consideration,” the city said in an email.
The new restrictions include the closing of public parks to all sporting activities and extending limitations on the use of public libraries, community centers and swimming pools. Businesses will remain open but Mayor Dee Margo is asking residents to shelter in place if they don’t need to perform essential activities outside of their homes for the next two weeks.
“As mayor I cannot shut down the city. The governor only has the authority for that, nor do I think it’s appropriate at this time. But this message is to our business owners and our community: we need your help to stop the spread,” Margo said. “We still want you to continue working and do as much as you can for a normal lifestyle. But be mindful: only we by our behavior can stop the spread..”
The restrictions come a day after a University of Texas panel released a model showing El Paso is in danger of running out of hospital space due to the large number of COVID-19 cases.
City officials said the spread is due in part to people who’ve tested positive for COVID-19 and are neither isolating nor observing prevention protocols and, in some cases not answering calls from municipal contact tracers. Many residents are still now wearing masks in public and continue to gather in other people’s homes without observing social distancing.
The city says people in their 20s and 30s are particularly contracting the virus while out in public and bringing it home to older adults, many of whom get sick and die. Thursday’s four fatalities involved three women older than 60 years and one in her 40s.
El Paso County Hospital District President and CEO Jacob Cintron said hospitals are rushing to add beds to cope with the COVID-19 surge.
“Hospitals are filling up, no doubt about that,” he said. “But I tell you, as soon as those (additional) beds are open they get filled. So our challenge is to try to control the amount of individuals who are getting infected to give our hospitals an opportunity to give proper care for those who do need our services related to COVID or not.”
Meantime, across the border in Juarez, Mayor Armando Cabada released a video from his hospital bed, sweating and struggling for words as he fights off the coronavirus for a second time this year. He was originally diagnosed with COVID-19 in May, overcame it, and again tested positive last Sunday.
“I am well, thank God. I’ve got pulmonary inflammation […] I want to go back to work, I will work from here. I have a computer to stay in communication with all of my directors, taking care of the city’s pressing issues. I will not overlook that, I will pay attention to public safety,” he said in the video.
He also urged border residents to observe COVID-19 precautions to prevent further spread.
Juarez has recorded less than one-third (10,410) the number of infections as El Paso but almost twice as many deaths (1,019). The disparity stems from limited testing in Mexico and even Juarez officials admit the true number of infections there is probably three to four times what has been reported.