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El Paso issues curfew to help curb Covid-19 as cases surge and hospitals reach full capacity

El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego issued the curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. starting Sunday night for the next two weeks to help curb the rising rates.

“The purpose of the curfew is to limit mobility in the community,” Samaniego said during a virtual press conference Sunday night, adding that the positivity rate and hospitalizations have exploded in recent weeks. “Currently our hospitals are stretched to capacity,” the judge explained.

The county — which includes the city of El Paso and sits in the southwest border of Texas above Juarez, Mexico — has seen a 160% increase in positivity rate since October 1 and a 300% increase in hospitalizations, the judge said.

“We’ve had significant spikes to the point that our hospital capacity is really tapped. We’re probably at the end of our rope there,” Mayor Dee Margo told CNN’s Ana Cabrera on Newsroom Sunday night. “It’s not good here at all.”

US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) resources will arrive in Texas this week, including two 35-person Disaster Medical Assistance Teams and a Trauma Critical Car Team, according to a statement from Governor Greg Abbott’s office.

On Sunday, 517 new positive Covid-19 cases were reported in the county for a total of 39,326 confirmed cases, according to the City/County of El Paso Covid-19 website. Three new deaths were also reported for a total of 575 deaths, the website shows.

Curfew imposed to slow spread

Samaniego explained that the curfew was put in place instead of another stay at home order because officials want to minimize the economic impact on businesses and families.

“The curfew is enough to limit the economic consequences on local businesses by allowing the stores to stay open. We carefully thought about the economic impact if we were to impose a full stay at home order like we did at the beginning of this process,” Samaniego explained.

“We know the impact it would have for you not to be able to go to work. So we’re going to do everything possible to continue moving towards the balancing of the economy and making sure that we adhere to public health and everything that is required for us to continue our battle against this very insidious virus,” he added.

Audrey Rodriguez of the Bowling Family YMCA in Northeast El Paso prepares the venue for early voting by putting out social distancing and direction markers from the entrance into the parking lot.

Those who don’t comply with orders could face a fine of $250 for not wearing a mask and $500 for not following the order, Samaniego said.

Mayor Margo said that while there hasn’t been one cause identified for the recent surge, many cases have been attributed to community spread and people letting their guard down.

“We did an analysis for two weeks on 2,404 cases from October 6 through October 20 and what we found is that 37% of our positives were from visiting large big-box stores, 22.5% were restaurants, and 19% were travel to Mexico,” Margo explained, adding that 10% were attributed to parties and reunions, 7.5% were due to gyms and only 4% were due to large gatherings.

The mayor urged people to

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Curfew enacted in El Paso as county judge says hospitals and ICUs near capacity

Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced Sunday that the state will establish an alternate care site to expand care in El Paso as the region deals with surging COVID-19 cases. El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego on Sunday issued a curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., saying all El Paso hospitals are filling to capacity.

“We are at a crisis stage,” Samaniego said.

El Paso officials said Sunday there were 517 new cases, as well as 55 delayed testing results reported by the state, for a total of 11,321 active cases in the area. Three additional deaths were reported.

“In less than three weeks we’ve spiked from 259 to 786 COVID-related hospitalizations — a 300% increase. If we continue on this trend, we risk detrimental effects to our entire healthcare system,” said El Paso public health director Angela Mora in a statement on Sunday.  

The new alternate care site will open this week at the El Paso Convention and Performing Arts Center with 50 beds and the ability to expand to 100 beds if needed.

US-TEXAS-HEALTH-VIRUS-ECONOMY
Cars line up for Covid-19 tests at the University of Texas El Paso on October 23, 2020 in El Paso, Texas. 

Photo by Paul Ratje / AFP) (Photo by PAUL RATJE/AFP via Getty Images


The federal Department of Health and Human Services will also be deploying two 35-person disaster teams, Abbott said. The state has already deployed 900 additional medical personnel to El Paso, some of which will staff the auxiliary care site.

“The alternate care site and auxiliary medical units will reduce the strain on hospitals in El Paso as we contain the spread of COVID-19 in the region,” Abbott said.

A report by UT-Austin released Thursday said “the El Paso region has the most threatening projections, with an estimated 85% probability that COVID-19 cases will exceed local hospital capacity by November 8th, 2020.”

According to the same report, five other regions have a more than 25% chance of hospitals being overwhelmed with in 3 weeks: Amarillo (28%), Lubbock (29%), Wichita Falls (30%), San Angelo (29%) and Galveston (33%).

Abbott announced on Saturday that he had requested the use of a medical center at Fort Bliss for non-COVID-19 patients. Officials with the University Medical Center of El Paso said Saturday they are working to coordinate airlifting patients requiring critical care to other hospitals in the state. This will be a strictly voluntary decision by the patients and arrangements will be made to bring all patients home to El Paso, CBS El Paso affiliate KDBC reported.  

COVID-19 cases have been on the rise both throughout Texas and nationwide. On Friday, more cases were reported than any other single day since the pandemic began. 

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Texas seeks to shore up hospital capacity in El Paso as coronavirus cases surge nationwide

New reported infections nationwide surpassed 80,000 for the first time this Friday and again Saturday, as hospitalizations push past 40,000 and daily death tolls begin to climb. Officials are already trying to shore up overwhelmed facilities: In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Sunday announced that state authorities are creating a new site for medical care and deploying extra resources to hospitals in El Paso, where covid-19 hospitalizations have nearly quadrupled to almost 800 in less than three weeks.

The United States’ latest case spike, expected to intensify as winter draws closer, is geographically broader than the spring surge that devastated East Coast states and the summer wave that hit the South and Southwest. And it comes as leaders are leery of renewed shutdowns, as Americans grow wearier of restrictions and as the Thanksgiving travel season looms.

In previous waves, “our governments reacted,” said Megan Ranney, an emergency medicine professor at Brown University. “We closed bars. We closed restaurants. We enforced mask mandates. And I’m not seeing a lot of that nationally right now.”

“We are set up for just a perfect storm — a conflagration,” she said. “Right now, you can talk about there being lots of little burning fires across the country. And then Thanksgiving will be the wind that will whip this fire up into an absolutely human disaster for our country.”

In El Paso, authorities are urging people to stay home as efforts to add hospital beds kick in. The new facility announced by Abbott, set to open this week at the El Paso Convention and Performing Arts Center, will start at 50 beds but can expand to 100 if necessary, the governor’s office said, while “auxiliary medical units” sent to hospitals can boost capacity by 100 beds.

In a Sunday call, Abbott also asked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to ease the pressure with a Department of Defense medical center in El Paso. Abbott asked to house non-coronavirus patients in William Beaumont Army Medical Center so that hospitals in the El Paso area could give more beds to those with covid-19, the disease the novel coronavirus causes.

Health and Human Services did not immediately provide a comment.

New daily infections in El Paso have rocketed from fewer than 25,000 at the beginning of the month to more than 38,500 this weekend, according to The Washington Post’s tracking. New deaths have yet to surpass a peak in August, but deaths lag behind spikes in cases and hospitalizations.

The mayor of El Paso, Dee Margo, said he learned on a recent ride-along with fire officials that most of their calls are related to the coronavirus. If moves to address hospitals’ strain do not work, he said, he will ask the governor for more action. He pleaded with residents to mind their behavior to avoid “drastic measures.”

Some public health experts say they are not optimistic about the chances of ramping up coronavirus restrictions again across the country.

“I don’t see forceful policy intervention happening

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Idaho county health board overturns mask mandate despite hospitals hitting capacity

An Idaho county health board on Thursday voted to overturn a mandatory mask mandate just one day after the area’s main hospital reported that it was at 99 percent capacity amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

The board struck down the mandate in a 4-3 decision Thursday, with the county now recommending residents wear masks without imposing fines for noncompliance. 

According to the Spokesman-Review, the mandate was first implemented in Kootenai County in July following a spike in COVID-19 cases. However, the outlet reported that the mandate was largely ignored and not properly enforced by local authorities. 

Health board member Glen Bailey had proposed ending the mandate, arguing that it “restricts people’s right of choice and ability to comply or not comply under penalty of law,” according to the Spokesman-Review. 

The decision came after officials from area hospital Kootenai Health on Wednesday issued a press release saying that it was almost at capacity, adding that nearby hospitals were also almost full and would not accept new patients. 

The press release added that based on tests at Kootenai Health, the county is “seeing the highest rate of positivity since the start of the pandemic,” and that it was “looking at hospitals beyond our normal transfer area to see what is available” to accommodate additional patients. 

“Our hospitals, health district and emergency responders are relying on our community for support,” the statement read. “The best way forward is to keep up with efforts that will flatten the uptick in cases in our region.” 

The press release then outlined several actions it recommended for people to help stem the spread of COVID-19 in the area, including wearing face masks around people outside of one’s household, washing hands for at least 20 seconds, avoiding public areas and cleaning frequently touched surfaces often. 

Amid public backlash on the health board’s decision, the Panhandle Health District issued a public statement alerting people that its coronavirus hotline “is mainly staffed with volunteers that have nothing to do with the Board’s decisions.”

“They manage their fair share of angry callers with grace and patience, but please direct comments about the board meeting to the board,” the notice said.

Idaho has been one of several states experiencing spikes in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare reporting 950 newly confirmed cases on Thursday, bringing the state’s confirmed case total to 56,600. 

Kootenai County is now in the Panhandle Health District’s highest risk coronavirus category. According to The New York York Times COVID-19 database, the county had 96 newly confirmed coronavirus cases on Thursday, bringing the total to 3,724 infections and 48 deaths.

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‘At Capacity’: Covid-19 Patients Push U.S. Hospitals to Brink

WEST ALLIS, Wis. — A hospital in Idaho is 99 percent full and warning that it may have to transfer coronavirus patients to hospitals in Seattle and Portland, Ore. Medical centers in Kansas City, Mo., turned away ambulances on a recent day because they had no room for more patients. And in West Allis, just outside Milwaukee, an emergency field hospital erected on the grounds of the Wisconsin State Fair admitted its first virus patient this week.

More than 41,000 people are currently hospitalized with the coronavirus in the United States, a 40 percent rise in the past month, and cooler weather that pushes more people indoors is threatening to expand the outbreak still more. At least 14 states saw more people hospitalized for the virus on a day in the past week than on any other day in the pandemic, according to the Covid Tracking Project. Seven more states are nearing their peaks.

The nation has seen more people hospitalized at earlier points — during an onslaught of cases in New York City in April and in the Sun Belt in July — but the sharply rising numbers now are deeply worrisome, in part, because they are testing the limits of smaller hospital systems.

Patients are now spread more broadly across the country, with troubling hot spots from North Dakota to Kentucky. More people than ever are falling critically ill in rural areas, particularly in the Midwest and the Mountain West, where they must rely on hospitals that may have only a handful of beds. And experts worry that the growing numbers in need of hospital care will only get worse if cases continue to mount.

“I don’t really see any signs that things are slowing down and that concerns me a lot,” Caitlin M. Rivers, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University, said. “It has to be our starting premise that it’s not going to slow down unless we force it to slow down.”

Even as hospitalizations and known cases of the virus have grown, daily deaths across the country have remained fairly steady at around 760 in recent days. But some experts fear that the rate of deaths is beginning to rise again. Upticks in deaths usually lag behind rises in cases and hospitalizations because of the time it takes for the virus to progress.

For families around the country, the mounting hospitalizations were frightening — and personal. Among the thousands of patients, there was a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who had trouble catching her breath in Missouri, grandparents being treated in separate hospitals in Utah and a beloved uncle whose niece said he had been on a ventilator for five weeks in Wisconsin.

Amy Stadler, the niece, sat in a black minivan outside of the Milwaukee Brewers’ stadium this week as she waited for a nurse to swab her nose. She said relatives had collected messages for her uncle — who is gravely ill — to be shared if his condition were to grow even more

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COVID-19 testing capacity outpacing desire to get swabbed

The Trump administration says more than 120 million tests will be available in October nationwide. But far fewer Americans are actually being tested: only around 1 million per day, less than 30 million per month.

“I think people are confused. They don’t know what to do, whether to get a test. I think there was messaging as well — don’t get tested unless you really need it because you’re taking a test from someone else,” said Fred Turner, CEO of Curative, one of the nation’s top COVID testing companies. “The country now has more testing capacity.”

After a slow start, a growing number of Americans every day are swirling their cheeks, tickling their throats and plunging white swabs into their nostrils in search of the virus.

PHOTO: Fred Turner, CEO of Curative, says the company has the capacity to process 100,000 coronavirus tests a day at its Washington, D.C., facility. Overall, Curative handles nearly 10% of daily tests nationwide.

Soon, experts say, it might be done easily and cheaply in the privacy of your own home.

“We are getting to the point that there might be some candidates,” said Adm. Brett Giroir, the Trump administration’s testing czar on the prospect of at-home COVID tests. “I think we’ll get there. We’re not there yet.”

For now, public health officials and lab companies need more people to give samples.

Shifting Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on who should be tested and when have caused confusion, experts say, along with President Donald Trump’s comment over the summer that he told top officials to “slow the testing down, please.”

Lengthy processing delays in some areas during the late summer months are also said to have compounded the impression that not everyone who wants to get tested could get tested.

PHOTO: Admiral Brett Giroir, the Trump administration's testing czar, says cheap, fast at-home coronavirus tests could become reality in 2021 but that the technology is not yet accurate or sensitive enough in detecting infection.

Admiral Brett Giroir, the Trump administration’s testing czar, says cheap, fast at-home coronavirus tests could become reality in 2021 but that the technology is not yet accurate or sensitive enough in detecting infection.

“We definitely want people to be tested,” said Giroir.

“If you’re symptomatic you need to get tested. If you’ve been in close contact with a person known to have the disease, you should get tested,” Gioir told ABC News Live. “We need to have many individuals tested on a routine basis who are asymptomatic with no known exposure. We call that surveillance testing.”

ABC News got an exclusive look inside Curative’s lab in Washington, D.C., where more than 350 lab technicians and medical experts work around the clock to process more than 40,000 tests a day.

“We have extra capacity as well. So this is all designed to have scale-up capacity to 100,000 samples per day,” Turner said. The company handles nearly

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Hospital over capacity in ‘unsustainable’ coronavirus spike

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — One of Utah’s largest hospitals had no beds left Friday in its regular intensive-care unit as the governor declared the state’s weekslong spike in coronavirus cases “unsustainable.”

The University of Utah Health had to set up extra ICU beds staffed by doctors and nurses working overtime to care for its critical patients this week as the unit hit 104% capacity, said Chief Medical Officer Dr. Russell Vinik.

“We’ve cut back where we can but it’s precarious,” he said. “We are very concerned about flu season, particularly if people don’t get vaccinated. We can’t take another hit.”


Health officials again reported near record-breaking levels of new coronavirus cases Friday, meaning hospitalizations could continue to rise.

Utah health officials reported nearly 1,500 new cases Friday, a number that Republican Gov. Gary Herbert called “sobering” during a weekslong spike in new cases that started after the new school year began. Many Utah schools are holding in-person classes. Herbert again encouraged people to wear masks and practice social distancing.

Doctors like Vinik are also worried about the impending holiday season, where cold temperatures combined with more people gathering indoors could mean further spread of the pandemic. Hospitals statewide were at 73% capacity.

Herbert has not issued a statewide mask mandate, but earlier this week he unveiled a new plan that would automatically require face coverings in high-transmission counties. He warned Friday that more areas could face new restrictions if the case counts didn’t come under control.

“This is vital to ensure our healthcare system is not overwhelmed,” Herbert said in a statement.

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