EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – El Paso has imposed new restrictions on businesses and public activity after coronavirus cases soared to an all-time high on Thursday.
Businesses will have to reduce occupancy from 75% to 50%, restaurants must close by 9 p.m. except for takeout and delivery, indoor sports are paused and outdoors sports can have no spectators, except for professional or collegiate matches. Bars remain closed, visits to nursing homes are suspended and there will be no home gatherings, Mayor Dee Margo said.
The restrictions go into effect at 12:01 a.m. Friday. They were announced on the day El Paso County reported a record 717 new infections and an additional death, bringing the totals to 30,624 cases and 554 deaths since the pandemic began.
“This is an unprecedented amount of new cases which require immediate action,” Margo said. “It’s been seven months since we announced our first COVID case and I know we are all experiencing fatigue, but we must not let our guard down and become complacent. Failure to take care of ourselves and others will only continue to spread the virus.”
Since last week, Health Department officials have been warning that “COVID-19 fatigue” would bring about a major spike in infections. They were referring to residents, particularly millennials, resuming their gatherings without observing social distancing and relaxing the wearing of masks.
But the numbers kept going up despite the warnings. More than 100 COVID-19 patients have been in the intensive care unit of hospitals for the past three days and the hospitalization rate for coronavirus victims has averaged 28% for the past week.
On Tuesday, the state sent 100 nurses and other medical personnel to assist local hospitals and Margo said he talked to Gov. Greg Abbott about delaying in-person classes in El Paso, which were scheduled to resume next week. He’s expecting an answer soon.
“We did not want to take a step back, but this unprecedented amount of new cases has left us with no options,” Margo said. “I’ve said all along this is a balancing act … trying to balance our economy with the public and mental health of our community.”
The mayor added that city employees would be monitoring for violations and offenders fined $500. That includes businesses as well as people testing positive and ordered to quarantine but choosing not to do so.
The spike comes just as early voting started in Texas, but Margo said the orders won’t impact polling places, which are already enforcing strict protocols.
City-County Health Authority Dr. Hector Ocaranza said people between the ages of 20 and 52 constitute the majority of the cases, while senior citizens with underlying medical conditions like diabetes and hypertension make up the majority of the deaths in the area.
“We want to remind the community that it is up to all of to preserve the lives and health of our loved ones,” Ocaranza said. “We must observe social distancing, we must wear face masks and wear them the right way. That is the only way we’re going to end this.”