EL PASO, Texas — El Paso's Health Authority expressed "incredible concern" as the county tallied 284 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, which he grimly noted marked "the largest spike since the introduction of the virus to the (El Paso) community."
The county also set troubling new records Sunday for both hospitalizations, with 147 patients, and the number of those in the ICU at 68. At least 25 of those intensive care patients were on ventilators as of Sunday morning. The surge in El Paso's hospitalization rate now mirrors record increases across Texas that have been taking place for 16 straight days.
Sunday's dramatic hike in new infections brought the total number of cases in El Paso during the pandemic thus far to 5,614 - with nearly 1,300 of those occurring since last Sunday. That means almost a quarter of all virus infections have happened in the last eight days.
“This jump in positive cases is incredibly concerning, and calls for a renewed focus by each person to be stricter towards taking care of themselves and their loved ones,” said Health Authority Dr. Hector Ocaranza, who urged El Pasoans to wear face masks and practice social distancing among their precautions.
Fortunately, no additional deaths were reported Sunday, so the total number of fatalities in El Paso remained at 127. There have been only seven deaths recorded since last Sunday, the lowest number in more than two months. But observers warned that the growing numbers of both cases combined with hospitalizations was an ominous sign.
"Deaths and hospitalizations are lagging indicators of Covid-19 impact because it generally takes time for people to get so sick that they require hospitalization or succumb to the disease. The lethality of the current spike in cases likely won’t be known for several weeks," explained Bob Moore of El Paso Matters, after examining the health department's data from the past week.
While outbreaks at a nursing home and a detention facility - both of which Dr. Ocaranza refused to identify - contributed to Sunday's soaring case increase, he blamed the bulk of the recent caseload growth on community spread involving those under the age of 40.
“While we are still investigating the details behind the cause of the spikes recorded over the last week; we’ve seen a trend in cases among those in their teens, 20s and 30s and likely a haphazard approach to health prevention," he said.
Dr. Ocaranza added that "collectively, more than 40% of our positive cases are individuals in their 20s and 30s. However, the larger concern is that these individuals may be in contact with at-risk family members who are vulnerable and may become the next Covid-19 fatality.”
The explosion of infections among younger adults is occurring not only in El Paso, but across the state of Texas. It was a key factor in Gov. Greg Abbott's decision late last week to order all bars closed again, and his acknowledgement in an ABC-7 interview that he allowed them to reopen too soon.
We're "now seeing in the aftermath of how quickly the coronavirus spread in the bar setting," the governor admitted. "A bar setting, in reality, just doesn't work with a pandemic."
Moore said his analysis of the El Paso health department data also showed "the illness is spreading fastest among young adults," who accounted for over 50% of all new cases in the past week. But he added, "it’s growing among virtually all age groups in El Paso."
One reason for the current unprecedented spread of the virus, the county's top doctor indicated, may be explained by the numbers of El Pasoans who are infected but don't feel sick and thus, are unlikely to know that they are carriers of the virus.
"It is estimated that more than 20 percent of the total positive cases are asymptomatic, meaning the patients reported showing no Covid-19 symptoms," Dr. Ocaranza concluded, adding that's why it is important for everyone to take virus precautions.