El Paso Mayor Attributes Coronavirus Spike to Shopping at Large Retailers

A woman wearing a facemask walks past a sign informing customers that face coverings are required in front of a Walmart store in Washington, DC on July 15, 2020. - Walmart will require shoppers to wear face masks starting next week, the US retail giant announced on July 15, joining …
ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images

El Paso Mayor Dee Margo (R) is attributing the recent spike in cases of the Chinese coronavirus to individuals shopping at large retailers during a Sunday appearance on CBS News’s Face the Nation.

On Monday, the City of El Paso, Texas, reported 461 new cases of the Wuhan virus, bringing the cumulative total to 86,172 cases:

On Sunday, the city’s mayor attributed the spike in cases to people experiencing “COVID fatigue.”

“We hit, oh, about almost six weeks ago, we started spiking significantly. I think people just— the consensus is people just had COVID fatigue and they let down, as Dr. Birx said, you got to wear the mask and you’ve got to maintain the distancing and you’ve got to avoid the crowds,” he said, detailing the “deep dive” officials conducted into their contact tracing for the week spanning November 10 through November 16.

The investigation found that “55 percent of the positives were coming from shopping at large retailers, what we’d term as the big box stores,” according to the mayor:

And those are considered essential under CISA guidelines under homeland security. And we don’t really have- I don’t have any control over any limitations there. We’ve asked for voluntary limitations and Wal-Mart and several others are starting to meter, meaning they’re going to limit the occupancy of their- of their stores, which we think- we also dug up the fact that previously our- over 52 percent of our positives were coming in the ages of 20 to 39. Now it’s 30 to 50. So we’re just trying to maintain, but recently, and I’m- I’m fearful to even mention it, we’ve started to seem like we’re starting to maybe plateau. On Thanksgiving Day, we had 406 positives. The next day was 678.

CBS News’s Margaret Brennan asked Margo what other action he could take in light of the fact that big box retail stores, which officials say are contributing to the spread of the virus, are considered essential.

“I know you just said that you can’t shut down big box stores because they’re deemed essential,” Brennan said.

“But at a certain point, because of what you’re talking about, if people aren’t taking personal responsibility for themselves and their own behavior, do you as mayor need to shut down what businesses you can?” she asked.

The mayor explained that he “took action” to close down restaurant bars at 9 p.m., but Brennan noted that restaurants, as well as other stores, remain open.

“We were seeing a lot of congregating there. And so we shut them down at 9:00 p.m. for in-dining,” the mayor said.

“The state of Texas allowed bars to convert to restaurants with food trucks, kind of a — some of them were kind of gaming the system, we think, and there was a lot of congregation there,” he continued, switching focus to private gatherings:

But, you know, when we look at the Rio Grande Valley and Hidalgo County, which went through a spike just before ours, we talked to their health department. What they discovered in their contact tracing was the majority of their positives were coming from- from home gatherings. And that’s- that’s also still problematic here. I mean, we’re- we’re a multigenerational community and family is big– and there’s travel to Mexico. There’s also those issues.

Similarly, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has also placed an emphasis on private gatherings, reporting that 65 percent of all cases are traced to gatherings of that nature.

“This is where the spread is coming from. It’s a small gathering spread. We have to communicate this now to people the way we communicated masks,” he said during Monday’s press conference.

“Seemingly the safest place — my home my table my family. Yeah, even that place is not safe,” he added.

El Paso made headlines earlier this month over the mobilization of the Texas National Guard, which was tasked with “support[ing] the moratory affairs in the region”:

El Paso County is reportedly moving mobile morgues to a “central morgue facility,” according to ABC7.

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