EL PASO, Texas -- El Paso officials are imposing new restrictions on restaurants and some businesses as new daily cases of the coronavirus soared to an all-time high of 717, along with 20 delayed positives, for a tally of 737 on Thursday.
It is an "unprecedented amount of new cases," observed Mayor Dee Margo at a news conference.
There are now a record 6,887 active infections among a total of 30,624 cases since the start of the pandemic. There was also one additional death - a man in his 80s - reported Thursday to raise El Paso's death toll to 554.
The hospitalization rate due to Covid-19 in El Paso County has now risen to a whopping 28%, the mayor indicated, also the highest of the pandemic.
State health officials noted that there were just six intensive care unit beds available on Thursday throughout all of the El Paso area hospitals. Of the 438 patients hospitalized Thursday, 111 were in the ICU, according to El Paso health department statistics.
Margo and City/County Health Authority Dr. Hector Ocaranza announced the following "strong restrictions on activities in our community to slow the spread" as of 12:01 a.m. Friday...
- Occupancy is rolled back to 50% for all non-essential business.
- Restaurants must close at 9 p.m., except for take-out/drive-thru
- Visits to nursing homes and elderly care facilities are put on hold
- Gatherings in parks are limited to 10 or less
- Indoor sports cancelled, no spectators for outdoor sports (doesn't apply to UTEP, Locomotive)
- No home gatherings are permitted
- Note: Election polling places are unaffected by restrictions
- Reminder: Halloween trick-or treating will not be allowed
Fire Chief Mario D'Agostino said the city's enforcement task force would be issuing citations to those violators who fail to follow the new restrictions.
"Today’s spike is part of an overall increase in cases seen over the last week due to community spread believed to be caused by Covid-19 fatigue resulting in residents letting their guard down," the mayor said.
Public Health Director Angela Mora added that more than half of the new cases are among El Pasoans between 20 and 49.
“We make a call to the millennials and all the other people out there partying and wearing their masks on their necks to please listen and work with us,” Mora said.
Margo said he talked with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott about the city’s new restrictions and Abbott didn’t voice any concerns.
“We’ve been in constant contact with the governor, and he knows exactly what we have implemented. We’re fine,” Margo said.
During a news conference later Thursday in El Paso to announce a Texas Supreme Court pick, Abbott was asked about El Paso's restrictions and said the mayor was acting within his authority.
"Local officials do have levels of flexibility to make sure they are able to contain the spread of Covid-19, and it appears that is exactly what Mayor Margo is doing," Abbott said.
Earlier this week, the governor announced the state was sending a team of 75 additional medical personnel to the area to help local officials treat patients. Those reinforcements have arrived, Margo confirmed.
That was on top of 169 professionals the state had already sent. The state is also sending an additional 2 million masks and a cumulative 4 million pieces of personal protective equipment to El Paso, Abbott said.
“We will continue to surge resources to the El Paso region until the time El Paso has Covid contained,” the governor said on Thursday.
For a look at complete El Paso health department data on Covid-19, you can visit EPStrong.org (The Texas Tribune and Associated Press contributed to this report.)