EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Texas will supply El Paso schools 2 million face masks and other personal protective gear this fall to protect students from COVID-19, Gov. Greg Abbott said.
Another 2 million masks are already being distributed to local hospitals dealing with a major increase in coronavirus infections in the past few days.
The spike prompted El Paso Mayor Dee Margo to roll back business occupancy from 75% to 50%, force restaurants to close dining areas by 9 p.m. and ban indoor sports and large gatherings, among other measures announced on Thursday.
Abbott said the state is aware of El Paso’s COVID-19 woes and will assist local authorities in managing the crisis.
“As Texas goes about the process of opening up even more — ensuring that people have the ability to go back to work and return to school — we also have to be flexible to respond to any rise in the spread of COVID-19,” the governor said while visiting El Paso. “Part of that is having local officials take action needed to mitigate the spread. … We are working with the El Paso region in facing those challenges.”
In addition to the PPE, the state has sent about 100 extra nurses and medical workers to El Paso and provided increased testing capability. That testing will expand when students return to the classroom, he said.
“A great portion of the testing will be community based, a large part of it school based,” the governor said. “We’ve already began testing educators in school district in the El Paso area. (After) staff is tested, we’re going to make sure testing is available to students, but no student will be tested without the prior approval of a parent or guardian.”
He said school districts would be asked to opt into the state testing program by late October but gave no further details.
Abbott said he’s confident local emergency measures and material support from the state will help this border city cope with the current spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
“We have some experience elsewhere in Texas (and) each has led to a reduction in the spread of COVID,” he said. “The Rio Grande Valley was far worse-pressed than El Paso is now. (They) got it contained and it’s now one of the best contained regions in the state because we surged resources. We will continue to surge resources to the El Paso region until the time that El Paso has COVID contained.”
Abbott said he wasn’t specifically familiar with the containment measures announced by the El Paso mayor earlier in the day, but added he’s believes they will help.
“What mayor Margo is doing is similar to what officials did in Hidalgo, Cameron and Webb counties and other regions in Texas. Local officials have levels of flexibility to make sure they can contain the spread of COVID and it appears that is exactly what Dee Margo is doing,” the governor said.
El Paso has recorded 30,624 coronavirus cases and 554 deaths since the pandemic began. The city reported a record 717 new infections on Thursday along with one death and 111 patients under intensive care at area hospitals.