EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — The state of Texas is now telling you about the coronavirus clusters near your home, but we may not get the same transparency from the City of El Paso.
El Paso Mayor Dee Margo told KTSM 9 News it’s not because the City doesn’t want to tell you.
As we reported, city council voted 5-4 last week to be more open with the community on businesses and facilities reporting COVID-19 clusters. That initiative is still in the works by the City Reps. who sponsored the item to begin with.
“Last thing that we want to do is to identify a person, but rather to disclose the locations of outbreaks,” City Rep. Cassandra Hernandez shared.
We now have more information on COVID-19 cases and deaths at state funded facilities on behalf of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. The data shows the names, locations, and self-reported numbers from nursing and assisted living facilities all over Texas. This includes several in El Paso.
“The executive director said that they had an ethical obligation to disclose this information for purposes of public health, but also to protect the identity of persons,” Hernandez said.
“We’re not disclosing on their behalf, they are being mandated to self-disclose by the Attorney General and that’s fine. We’re all for it,” Mayor Dee Margo added.
City Reps. Cassandra Hernandez, Peter Svarzbein and Alexsandra Annello continue to push for more transparency after the original vote failed but plan to suggest more options.
“If you are a bad actor and you are being cited by the City, then the public deserves to know and should be given that access immediately. So that’s a measure we want to consider next week as well,” Hernandez shared.
Mayor Margo told KTSM that under current state law, it’s not the mandate for the City to disclose names. The Mayor adds ultimately, its up to the business or facility to report COVID-19 cases.
“It is illegal for the city under the confidentiality statute, section 81.046 to do so. That’s what we’ve been told, irrespective of whether I have council members that want to argue the law,” Margo said, “The state legislature would have to overturn this. That’s not going to happen until next year if they ever did it.”
Hernandez said the work to find a middle ground is still not over, “Again, not to shame but to give and empower El Pasoans to better protect their families.”
Council could also talk about disclosing the names of all government facilities funded by taxpayers with COVID-19 clusters. This is on the federal, state, and local levels.
“We’re looking at the city departments, county departments, we have the airport we have bridges, we have immigration centers, we have correctional facilities and then we have state run facilities and nursing homes. Looking at all of the government entities and disclosing all the names of facilities where there are large clusters and outbreaks. Again, not to shame but to give and empower El Pasoans to better protect their families,” Hernandez said.
All these discussions are expected to take place next Tuesday during City Council’s regular meeting.
To take a look at the data released by TxHHSC, click here.