El Paso setting up field hospitals as facilities fill due to COVID-19 surge

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County order includes fines of $250 to $500 for those who don't wear masks in public, violate curfew

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EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – El Paso County has gone into an overnight lockdown and is setting up mobile hospitals, as the coronavirus situation continues to worsen.

The order issued Sunday night by County Judge Ricardo Samaniego directs people to stay in their homes from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., except for essential reasons such as work or bona fide emergencies. Those violating the curfew will face fines of up to $500, Samaniego said.

Other fines include $250 for people not wearing face masks while out and about. “Enforcement will be a vital component,” Samaniego said. “We focused on education, we focused on compliance, but as you can see the numbers have not gone down.”

The order comes as hospital and intensive care unit beds reached 100% capacity on Sunday and 1,443 new COVID-19 infections were reported on Monday morning. The city has recorded 40,887 cases and 576 coronavirus-related fatalities since the pandemic began.

Hospitalizations reached a record high at 853, with 180 coronavirus patients under intensive care as of Monday, with 12,179 active cases, the Health Department reported.

“We are in a crisis state,” Samaniego said. “Funeral homes are preparing for a surge. We had 160% increase in our positivity rate since Oct. 1; over 300% in hospitalizations. Currently, our hospitals are stretched to capacity. All ICUs are at 100%. Active cases have exceeded capacity as well.”

Auxiliary medical units (AMUs) are being set up at local hospitals and one such field hospital is also up at the El Paso Convention Center to handle the surge. The AMUs will provide up to 100 additional beds per hospital.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said some 900 medical personnel have been sent to assist El Paso in the surge against COVID-19, some of whom will staff the AMUs.

“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. “We continue to work closely with local officials in El Paso and provide resources to reduce hospitalizations, mitigate the spread, and keep the people of El Paso safe.”

Samaniego said the curfew is meant to slow down contagion, but shouldn’t keep people from accessing emergency services.

The county judge said he would be meeting with officials from the city of El Paso, Las Cruces, New Mexico and Juarez, Mexico to coordinate an emergency response to the COVID-19 surge. “We need to make sure we are looking at this from a regional perspective […] We need to make sure that we are doing everything we can to help each other. We are not alone in this situation.”

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