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With hospitalization rates soaring, El Paso brings a new traveling tide

EL PASO – Coronavirus patients have filled the beds on one floor. Then two. Then the University Medical Center, a teaching hospital in El Paso, set up tents to care for patients in a parking lot. The convention center in the city center became a field hospital. To create more space, the country has begun airlifting dozens of intensive care patients to other cities.

Local leaders clashed over what to do to de-escalate the escalating coronavirus crisis. The highest official in the province ordered the closure and curfew. But the mayor did not agree, and the police said they would not enforce it. Then the prosecutor took care – the lockdown was unnecessary and illegal, he said.

And sick people kept coming.

“We are discharging one patient, and there are two patients coming,” said Wanda Helgesen, executive director of the local center. Emergency and Disaster Preparedness Board.

El Paso, a border city of 680,000 people, now has more people in hospital due to Covid-19 than most states. 1076 as of Tuesday It doubles its supply of mobile morgues to 10 from four.

Pressures are being mirrored across the country as the deadly third wave of the pandemic grapples. The number of Covid-19 hospital admissions in the United States reached a record high of 61,964 on Tuesday, surpassing the dreadful early days of spring in New York and summer in the South and West.

The number of hospitalizations has more than doubled since September, according to a newspaper Covid Tracking Project, Surpassing the previous peak of 59,940 hospitalized patients in mid-April. But while previous booms have receded, public health experts fear that the pace of new hospitalization will continue to rise along with new infections, which average 111,000 a day nationwide and show no signs of abating.

States that seemed to control the spread, such as New Jersey and New York, are recovering. Meanwhile, rural hospitals in North Dakota and Idaho are in desperate need of doctors, nurses and technicians to deal with a rapidly expanding population.

And the risk factors that public health officials have long warned that it could spread the virus and stress hospitals in the fall and winter – more indoor activities, the start of the flu season and gatherings over the winter vacation – are just beginning.

“Things aren’t just bad, and there is no end in sight,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University. “If we stop all transmission today, which we cannot and will not do, we are looking at probably a month of excess capacity in a lot of communities in America.”

Texas recently passed 1 million confirmed cases of the virus, with 19,000 deaths. Of the 6,100 hospitalized patients across the state, one in six patients is in El Paso. Dr. Mario Raccoon, El Paso County’s chief medical examiner, said Tuesday that his office had 154 bodies. “It’s exhausting,” he said.

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The city brought in more than 1,400 healthcare workers from across the state, and about 60 more arrived over the weekend in three teams Sent by the Ministry of Defense. But the new patients strained even those extra resources. Half of the sick beds in the city are now occupied by those infected with Covid-19.

“Things are not good,” said Mayor de Margot. But he said he is also concerned about the impact of the new lockdowns on families who are struggling to survive. “I’m trying to walk this tightrope.”

The situation reflects the greater difficulty of trying to fight a national crisis in the absence of a national strategy. On El Paso, an urban island in remote West Texas between the border with Mexico and New Mexico, this absence was acute.

The pandemic response philosophy focused on local control and personal responsibility, beginning with the Trump administration and reinforced by the Republican Gov. of Texas, Greg Abbott, at times left local leaders at loggerheads over how to handle a serial outbreak.

After the shutdown in the spring, Abbott hurried to begin reopening the Texas economy. By summer, the virus would escalate again, he said Pause reopening, Then They clashed with local leaders in Houston and other cities Who wanted to reduce his activities, but was prevented by his orders. he is Tell Texas to wear face masks. In October, it is Eased further trade restrictions.

By that time, hospitals in El Paso were already feeling nervous.

County Chief Officer Ricardo A. Samanigo, Make an order to stay home And strict new restrictions on business are imposed on October 29. But Mayor Margo didn’t think Mr. Samaniego had the power to do so, and he initially opposed it. While local county cops tried to enforce the lockdown, the much larger El Paso Police Department said it would not.

“Tremendous confusion,” said Laura Rayborn, who owns a spa and other local business. The mayor went over the radio and television and said, “Stay open.” Mrs. Rayburn decided to do so.

Restaurants continued to provide service, despite orders for takeout and delivery stops. Aaron Means said, “We decided to do what we needed to do.” He owns a restaurant Close to the campus of the University of Texas in El Paso.

Some went to court to fight the lockdown and were joined by conservative attorney general, Ken Paxton, who described the boycott’s action as “repression” and pledged to end it. After a week of swinging between the three levels of Texas government, state court Friday ruled in favor of the new restrictions on companies. Mr. Paxton is attractive.

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At this point, frustration and confusion have spread widely, minimizing any immediate benefits from closing the business and all but ensuring that the closure is necessary for a longer period.

“Something worse than a lockdown is getting confused about whether you’re locked out,” said David Jerome, president of the El Paso Chamber of Commerce. “I am a big fan of 50 experiences in democracy but not when it comes to an epidemic.”

Officials said the two-week closure order for the province, which is due to expire on Wednesday, has not yet shown any significant impact on hospitalization. “It doesn’t look like we have reached our peak,” said Ms. Helgesen.

As of Tuesday, the average number of new coronavirus cases in the city was 1,800 cases per day, nearly twice the number in the state’s most populous county, Dallas. Hardest hit following.

Mr. Samaniego, the county executive, said he would like to extend the lockdown order, possibly through Thanksgiving. He was worried that few people were following her, and that the holiday would bring new dangers.

“We have never set up a real residence in the house,” said Mr. Samaniego. “We have never been able to see the full effect.”

The governor’s office said the focus for Mr. Samaniego and other local officials should be on enforcing current regulations, including restaurant capacity limits and Mask requirementsAnd no closing. “This strategy has been effective in slowing the spread of the virus during the summer and containing Covid-19, while allowing companies to operate safely,” said Rina Eze, a spokeswoman for the governor.

Like the country as a whole, El Paso has now entered an uncertain period. Officials hope that enough people will follow the lockdown to slow the spread of infection. Police have started issuing tickets to companies that do not comply.

On Monday, city officers in heavy Segue cars and the sheriff in patrol cars were seen sailing through a mostly empty shopping area and visiting businesses near the border with the Mexican city of Ciudad Juárez.

Some officials and residents blamed flights to Juarez for the spread of infection in El Paso, even as cross-border travel is almost entirely restricted to US citizens. The two cities long formed one center of trade in the mountainous desert, and Americans living in Mexico often traveled to El Paso to use its better-resourced hospitals.

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Officials said this has continued throughout the pandemic, as Juarez has seen hospital infrastructure collapse under the pressure of a serious outbreak. The extent of the epidemic in Juarez is unknown due to insufficient testing, but even the mayor He was taken to hospital due to the virus.

Health officials said the majority of infections in El Paso have come from community transmission, particularly within multi-generational families who often live together or frequently meet together for shopping or visiting.

“We’ve seen many family members come, usually on different days,” said Dr. Edward Mickelson, chief of emergency medicine at University Medical Center and a professor at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center.

Hector Balderrama, 55, a medical supply salesman, saw his immediate family contract the virus in mid-October: first, his adult son. Then his wife. Then his eldest daughter.

He said, “We’ve shut down completely.” His wife was hospitalized and his diabetic son spent days in the intensive care unit. They finally recovered. Mr. Balderrama didn’t catch it. “Thank God we are here and getting better, but we are not 100 percent.”

Vast areas of the city are eerily empty, with indoor malls surrounded by deserted parking lots. The afternoon wind blows through the deserted downtown streets, throwing plastic bags like tumbleweeds into Spaghetti West with just a handful of actors.

Adriana Salas, 48, has kept her small clothing store open despite fewer customers and new restrictions. “I was too late to pay the rent,” she said. “I came to open because I needed the money.”

Constant activity in the city can be found in supermarkets along Interstate 10, in winding lines of cars at restaurants or by people trying to find space to be outside in a mostly quiet outdoor shopping center.

“We were all sick,” said Xavier Gonzalez, 45, of his wife and 6-year-old son, who was at that moment running with the family dog ​​on a piece of artificial turf.

Mr. Gonzalez, a singer who has been mostly unemployed since March, got the worst of it – “I couldn’t get up anymore” – and was told by emergency room doctors he had viral pneumonia. But since he was able to breathe on his own, he was sent home to recover to make room for other, more serious patients.

Mexico was not seen, as some Texas did, as the source of the El Paso pandemic problems. “I think that’s an excuse for people looking to blame someone;“ It’s not us, they, ”he said.“ But we are. We don’t follow the rules. “

Neil McFarcohar Contributed to reporting from New York, and Mike Baker From Seattle.

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