El Paso extends COVID-19 restrictions; schools delay in-person return date

Coronavirus

Health department to remain vigilant as districts provide parents choice of online, in-person classes for kids

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — El Paso will remain under a disaster declaration for another month.

The City Council on Tuesday extended its emergency health order for 30 days as COVID-19 cases surpassed the 15,000-mark and concerns surfaced about the upcoming flu season and the return of students to classrooms. The order deals with the city’s authority to, among other things, ban mass gatherings and restrict non-essential activities.

“With the return of children to school and teachers and staff that is going to pose a bigger risk of increase in the transmission of the virus and we will also looking closely at the situation around our schools,” said El Paso City-County Health Authority Hector Ocaranza.

El Paso has recorded 15,142 COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday, including 278 fatalities. Most of the deceased had chronic health problems such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Many of them also struggled with obesity.

Ocaranza said the health department is working closely with El Paso area school districts to provide support and guidance to prevent outbreaks.

Districts like Socorro ISD have requested a Texas Education Agency waiver to delay in-person instruction at its campuses until Oct. 9.

Students in homes without internet access needed for at-home learning are being asked to contact their principals.

The El Paso Independent School District is giving parents options. They include: 100% virtual classes for their children; a combination of online and in-person classes twice a week; and in-person classes only for qualifying students. The latter group includes English learners, preschoolers and students with special needs.

“The plan is to make sure parents have a level of comfort in learning and give them options that fit their schedules while satisfying TEA guidelines,” said EPISD spokesman Gustavo Reveles.

Online classes start Aug. 17, with the in-person component kicking in on Sept. 8 or later — if the city or the state issue new guidance.

“We’re asking parents to be patient with us. Things are (fluid) with the guidelines and regulations regarding students and employees,” he said. “We’re also asking them to fill out the survey. How do you want to children to learn? We need to hear from you.”

Parents can respond to the survey online.

Flu season, another concern

Ocaranza said authorities would be monitoring influenza-like illnesses and other respiratory viruses that may tax hospital-bed occupancy. Flu season runs from October to March.

The city experienced issues with hospital capacity — particularly intensive care unit beds — during the peak of the pandemic here from mid-June to mid-July. However, Ocaranza said hospitalization and ICU numbers appear to be stabilizing.

Breakdown on principal exposure sources (City of El Paso)

“We are cautiously optimistic that perhaps that hopefully we are going to experience a decline in the hospitalizations due to COVID-19,” Ocaranza said. “Once we see an increase in cases we are going to see an increase in hospitalizations and an increase in deaths.”

Health Department research shows that the largest number of COVID-19 exposures (as opposed to clusters) have come in stores with 1,875 followed by restaurants (921), followed by travel to Mexico (768) and parties/gatherings (662). Restaurants in El Paso are operating at 50% capacity.

Juarez, Mexico is reporting 4,635 coronavirus cases as of Tuesday, with 674 fatalities.

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