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Restrictions tighten in El Paso as COVID-19 cases spike

October 15, 2020 GMT

Tighter virus restrictions are coming for the El Paso area in an effort to shrink the “unprecedented number” of newly reported COVID-19 cases, local officials said Thursday, making it the first major county in Texas to scale back since Gov. Greg Abbott loosened rules in September.

Visitors to facilities that care for the elderly will not be allowed, and businesses not considered essential must cut back to 50% of their capacity from 75%, El Paso Mayor Dee Margo said. Restaurants will be limited to take-out and drive-thru service after 9 p.m., and home gatherings also are temporarily banned.

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Bars, which had not been allowed to reopen, will remain closed.

The number of new daily COVID-19 cases recorded in El Paso soared Thursday to a record-breaking 717. The 6,887 active infections in the area make up more than 20% of the total cases seen in El Paso since the pandemic began. El Paso’s hospitalization is now 28%, the highest so far.

“This unprecedented number of new cases has left us no other option than to implement restrictions to slow the spread of the virus,” Margo said in a tweet.

New restrictions start Friday. They won’t affect early voting, which began statewide Tuesday.

El Paso’s surging numbers mirror jumping counts in positive cases as the world reached all-time highs of more than 330,000 per day.

Abbott, who was in El Paso on Thursday to announce a new appointment to the Texas Supreme Court, earlier in the week announced he was dispatching a team of 75 doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists and extra personal protective equipment to support by El Paso hospitals. That was on top of 169 professionals the state had already sent.

The governor compared the current effort to the ramp-up during dire summer days of the outbreak in another border area of the state, the Rio Grande Valley.

“The Rio Grande Valley got contained and is now one of the best contained regions in the state of Texas, because of the way we surged resources to that region” Abbott said. “We will continue to surge resources to the El Paso region until the time El Paso has COVID contained.”

For nearly a month, the Rio Grande Valley pleaded to the state for a field hospital, but did not have one running until August. In July, Hidalgo County reported more that 600 deaths — more than the Houston area, which has five times the population.

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The state had already provided more than 2 million masks, 100,000 face shields and would be sending an additional 2 million masks and a cumulative 4 million pieces of personal protective equipment to El Paso, Abbott said. The state would also help increase testing in the region, with more community and school-based testing.

Abbott said Texas could now conduct 100,000 rapid COVID-19 tests per day.