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Coronavirus

El Paso mayor breaks tie council votes to keep virus cluster data secret & not add test sites

EL PASO, Texas -- El Paso City Council voted 5-4 Tuesday, with Mayor Dee Margo breaking ties, to continue withholding information on the specific locations of Covid-19 clusters and to reject a plan for additional city virus testing sites.

That means identities of businesses, nursing homes and other locations where significant outbreaks of the virus have occurred in the city won't be made public. It also means the city won't be opening any more testing sites despite long wait times reported at current locations, the majority of which are managed by a contractor hired by the state.

The mayor maintained the city is already doing thousands of tests a day and doesn't have the staff or needed supplies to do more; he's also maintained there could be privacy violations by releasing the names of specific clusters. The city defines a cluster as two or more confirmed cases of an infection.

Voting yes to release the names of cluster spots and to add test sites were city representatives Peter Svarzbein, Cassandra Hernandez, Alexsandra Annello, Henry Rivera. Voting no on both measures were representatives Sam Morgan, Cissy Lizarraga, Isabel Salcedo, Claudia Lizette Rodriguez along with Mayor Margo.

The vote on cluster data came after an hour-long executive session with the city attorney.

The public doesn't know what was said in the executive session, but El Paso Matters CEO Bob Moore said several council members had said they were told it was illegal to release such information. He did not reveal the names of the council members or how many expressed that concern.

However, letters that the city attorney's office has sent to the state attorney general in recent months say differently. Those letters were in response to separate open records requests made by ABC-7 and by El Paso Matters for specific locations of coronavirus clusters.

In the letters, Asst. City Attorney Roberta Brito acknowledges that the law does allow them to release such information, but it doesn't require them to do so.

In other words, "the City of El Paso could release the information, but it chooses not to do so," said Moore.

Brito's argument to the attorney general's office is that even if the city decided to release the information, it has determined "the information cannot be released in a manner that unequivocally prevents identification of any persons as required" by state law.

"There's an important distinction between can't and won't," said Moore, who added that it's clear the city can release the specific information on cluster locations.

At least one other city in Texas, San Antonio, has released the names of nursing homes battling outbreaks.

"But the city of El Paso chooses not to do so. If it is a policy choice, the city should articulate the reasons for not being transparent. I didn't hear those reasons today," Moore said.

Coronavirus Video / El Paso / News / Texas Politics / Top Stories / Video

KVIA ABC-7

El Paso Matters - Bob Moore

El Paso Matters is a member-supported nonpartisan media organization that uses journalism to expand civic capacity in our region.

Comments

35 Comments

    1. Agree, and what is Sam Morgan doing on the Council? I thought he was under indictment for spousal abuse and weapons violations. Seems he should recuse himself.

        1. In Texas, once a domestic violence case is generated, the state files the charges not the spouse. It’s a protective measure so the victim doesn’t have to carry the burden of filing charges against the person abusing them.

          1. I didn’t know that. I do remember that the state stopped persuing a prosecution for some reason concerning the wife.

        2. Negative moron. According to public records his jury trial scheduled for April 24 was canceled/postponed due to the COVID19. Juries are on hold. One felony and one misdemeanor charge are still pending against him. Stop making yourself look dumb.

  1. They really need to release that information for public safety. I can’t fathom why they’re raising hell about mitigation and then pulling this stunt.

      1. Masks are working nationwide. Even the orange buffoon is onboard. Although I admit he’s only saying that because his advisors forced him to. Advisors and Republican congress member afraid of going down with him on November 3.

        1. So you will recognize me! I ordered a set of cloth masks with the EPPD logo on the front and it says, “Back The Blue” across it. If I have to wear a stupid mask, I can at least piss off the criminal/racist element while shopping.

          1. Best way to piss off the commie leftists in El Paso is to wear a Trump MAGA face mask. Still waiting for dumbass Alberto to take my Trump 2020 flag. I wish he would make my day.

      2. I ordered a set of cloth masks with the EPPD logo on the front and it says, “Back The Blue” across it. If I have to wear a stupid mask, I can at least piss off the criminal/racist element while shopping

  2. Don’t matter if you have the intellect on how to protect yourself from the virus. Too bad for the trailer trash folk. Their infection control and approach is “don’t lick the dog” kinda thang.

  3. WTG MARGO!!!!! YOU UNDERSTAND HIPAA GUIDELINES AND PRIVACY ACTS. CAN’T SAY THAT ABOUT THE LOCAL RIFF RAFF (WHITE FOLK… MADMIKE, K1DPR, GEE DUBB, UVACOWBOY, JEFFY ALLEN IF THE OLD WHITE RAG IS STILL ALIVE, ETC…WHAT CAN I SAY, TRUMP LOW CLASS FOLK.

  4. I agree with not releasing specific business names as cluster sites, AS LONG AS employees and residents (if any) are notified. I DISAGREE with not opening more testing sites. Hire more people and get more supplies.

  5. So, don’t get the beeraids but we’re not going to tell you where the most likely places are that you can catch it.

    Typical Elpisshole politics, got to maintain that foot on the citizens neck.

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