EL PASO, Texas – The El Paso civic center will be converted into a medical care site and some patients will be flown to other cities as local hospitals are being inundated with COVID-19 patients.
El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego on Sunday evening issued a stay-at-home order with a daily curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. unless going to work or going to an essential service. Violation of the order is punishable by a $500 fine.
“We are in a crisis stage,” Samaniego said, adding that hospitals and intensive care units were filling to capacity.
The curfew is intended to help slow the spread of the virus by reducing the number of people out in public.
There were 853 El Paso County patients in hospitals for COVID-19 as of Monday morning, up from 786 on Sunday. There are 180 patients in intensive care, up from 177 on Sunday, and 99 on ventilators, down from 117 on Sunday. Health data shows 41% of hospitalizations in the county are due to COVID-19.
El Paso County also saw a new record high in coronavirus cases: 1,443 new cases were reported Monday morning, and one new death. The county’s 7-day rolling positivity rate, which is the percentage of total COVID-19 that came back positive, was at 14.4% on Monday.
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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Sunday that the Texas Division of Emergency Management will set up an emergency care site with hospital beds, equipment and medical personnel at the civic center this week.
The civic center site will have a capacity of 50 beds and can expand to 100 beds, if needed, the office of the governor said.
‘Please stay home’
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is deploying two 35-member disaster medical assistance teams and a trauma critical care team to El Paso, Abbott said. The teams will arrive this week.
El Paso public health officials on Sunday again issued a plea for residents to stay home for two weeks to help curb coronavirus infections.
“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,” El Paso Public Health Director Angela Mora said in a statement.
“For the sake of those hospitalized and the frontline healthcare workers working tirelessly each day to care for them, we ask you to please stay home for two weeks and eliminate your interactions with those outside your household until we can flatten the curve,” she said.
The increase in COVID-19 patients means there are fewer hospital beds for other medical emergencies, including heart attacks, strokes and traffic accidents.
The governor’s office said the state has sent more than 900 medical personnel to El Paso, and some will staff the auxiliary medical unit in the civic center.
University Medical Center of El Paso has received 71 nurses, 15 respiratory therapists, three doctors and six nurse practitioners from the state, the county-run hospital said in a statement.
UMC is requesting another 100 nurses as the number of patients and the need for beds grow.
UMC and other hospitals in El Paso will offer critical-care patients the opportunity to be flown to hospitals in other Texas cities.
Up to 20 patients every 24 hours would be flown to other cities, UMC officials said. The decision to be taken out of town would be voluntarily and made by patients. The stay is meant to be temporary, and patients would later be returned to El Paso.
The state of Texas is also sending three to four medical tent hospitals with staff and equipment, UMC said.
UMC has already added more than 80 beds and is working to add more beds at other sites, officials said.
A request by the city to the federal government to use William Beaumont Army Medical Center beds for civilians was denied, UMC said in a statement Saturday. A decision to use the Army hospital in Fort Bliss would have to come from a higher level, UMC added.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, said in separate statements that they called Assistant Defense Secretary Kenneth Rapuano on Sunday to ask him that Beaumont be opened to help relieve pressure on El Paso hospitals.
El Paso has had 576 people die from COVID-19 since March.
Contributing: El Paso Times staff.
Follow reporter Daniel Borunda on Twitter: @BorundaDaniel