A record surge in coronavirus cases is pushing hospitals to the brink in the border cities of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, confronting health officials in Texas and Mexico with twin disasters in the tightly knit metropolitan area of 3 million people.
Health officials are blaming the spike on family gatherings, multiple generations living in the same household and younger people going out to shop or conduct business.
The crisis – part of a deadly comeback by the virus across nearly the entire U.S. – has created one of the most desperate hot spots in North America and underscored how intricately connected the two cities are economically, geographically and culturally, with lots of people routinely going back and forth across the border to shop or visit with family.
In El Paso, authorities have instructed residents to stay home for two weeks and imposed a 10 p.m. curfew, and they are setting up dozens of hospital beds at a convention center.
Also, the University Medical Center of El Paso erected heated isolation tents to treat coronavirus patients. As of Tuesday, Ryan Mielke, director of public affairs, said the hospital had 195 COVID-19 patients, compared with fewer than three dozen less than a month ago, and “it continues to grow by the day, by the hour.”
In Juarez, the Mexican government is sending mobile hospitals, ventilators and doctors, nurses and respiratory specialists. A hospital is being set up inside the gymnasium of the local university to help with the overflow.
Juarez has reported more than 12,000 infections and over 1,100 deaths, but the real numbers are believed to be far higher, because COVID-19 testing is extremely limited. El Paso County recorded about 1,400 new cases Tuesday, just short of the previous day’s record of 1,443. The county had 853 patients hospitalized for the virus on Monday, up from 786 a day earlier.