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Concerns arise at El Paso City Hall about Fort Bliss no longer reporting virus cases

EL PASO, Texas -- As the number of coronavirus cases rose in El Paso to 50 on Tuesday, the number of reported cases out of Fort Bliss remained at seven. That's the latest number reported Monday, before new Department of Defense guidelines went into effect.

The Pentagon issued an order saying military installations like Fort Bliss will no longer update the public on the specific number of COVID-19 cases they record.

According to a statement from the Pentagon’s chief spokesman, Jonathan Hoffman, the directive is meant to protect national security by keeping the number of U.S. service members affected by the virus -- either by infection or through quarantine -- a secret from the nation's enemies. By doing so, the country's national defense keeps a strong appearance.

District 1 El Paso city Rep. Peter Svarzbein suggested that Mayor Dee Margo and other civic leaders should reach out to Fort Bliss officials to let them know the importance of sharing such vital health information with the community.

“This kind of unilateral decision, I think, affects the public health of our community," said Svarzbein, who also serves as mayor pro-tem. "And I call to you, as our inter-governmental affairs officer, to reach out to folks you know both in Washington, and as well as on base to implore them to be as open and transparent as they can.”

Some others at City Hall were a little more ready to accept the Pentagon's new tighter lips. Senior Deputy Manager Cary Westin, who is a retired colonel, explained the decision came directly from the Pentagon and was based on national security reasons.

“It really is a national security issue of force readiness and the implications of force readiness potentially getting to our adversaries," Westin said. "They’re taking very, very serious precautions in doing that."

Westin gave City Council a case-and-point, whereas the post officials not only quarantine the soldier, but keeps them isolated from their families as well.

However, ABC-7 learned a veteran receiving treatment at Beaumont Army Medical Center was tested for COVID-19 and tested positive. The veteran was counted among the Fort Bliss cases.

Amabilia G. Payen, a spokeswoman for WBAMC on Wednesday told ABC-7, "William Beaumont Army Medical Center’s staff of Army Public Health Nurses have always reported health cases with the El Paso Public Health Department as per federal law requirements.  This has not changed since the COVID-19 pandemic began.  This requirement has always existed and was demonstrated during the measles outbreak, and continues with COVID cases.  While we will not report on aggregate numbers, we will continue to report all cases thru the El Paso Public Health Department in accordance with CDC guidelines and Texas State law."

Coronavirus Video / El Paso / News / Video

Saul Saenz

El Paso native Saul Saenz is a veteran reporter who also hosts ABC-7 Extra.

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