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El Paso issues curfew to help curb Covid-19 as cases surge and hospitals reach full capacity

El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego issued the curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. starting Sunday night for the next two weeks to help curb the rising rates.

“The purpose of the curfew is to limit mobility in the community,” Samaniego said during a virtual press conference Sunday night, adding that the positivity rate and hospitalizations have exploded in recent weeks. “Currently our hospitals are stretched to capacity,” the judge explained.

The county — which includes the city of El Paso and sits in the southwest border of Texas above Juarez, Mexico — has seen a 160% increase in positivity rate since October 1 and a 300% increase in hospitalizations, the judge said.

“We’ve had significant spikes to the point that our hospital capacity is really tapped. We’re probably at the end of our rope there,” Mayor Dee Margo told CNN’s Ana Cabrera on Newsroom Sunday night. “It’s not good here at all.”

US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) resources will arrive in Texas this week, including two 35-person Disaster Medical Assistance Teams and a Trauma Critical Car Team, according to a statement from Governor Greg Abbott’s office.

On Sunday, 517 new positive Covid-19 cases were reported in the county for a total of 39,326 confirmed cases, according to the City/County of El Paso Covid-19 website. Three new deaths were also reported for a total of 575 deaths, the website shows.

Curfew imposed to slow spread

Samaniego explained that the curfew was put in place instead of another stay at home order because officials want to minimize the economic impact on businesses and families.

“The curfew is enough to limit the economic consequences on local businesses by allowing the stores to stay open. We carefully thought about the economic impact if we were to impose a full stay at home order like we did at the beginning of this process,” Samaniego explained.

“We know the impact it would have for you not to be able to go to work. So we’re going to do everything possible to continue moving towards the balancing of the economy and making sure that we adhere to public health and everything that is required for us to continue our battle against this very insidious virus,” he added.

Audrey Rodriguez of the Bowling Family YMCA in Northeast El Paso prepares the venue for early voting by putting out social distancing and direction markers from the entrance into the parking lot.

Those who don’t comply with orders could face a fine of $250 for not wearing a mask and $500 for not following the order, Samaniego said.

Mayor Margo said that while there hasn’t been one cause identified for the recent surge, many cases have been attributed to community spread and people letting their guard down.

“We did an analysis for two weeks on 2,404 cases from October 6 through October 20 and what we found is that 37% of our positives were from visiting large big-box stores, 22.5% were restaurants, and 19% were travel to Mexico,” Margo explained, adding that 10% were attributed to parties and reunions, 7.5% were due to gyms and only 4% were due to large gatherings.

The mayor urged people to

Hospitals are full but some parts of Idaho refuse mask rules

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Moments after hearing an Idaho hospital was overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients and looking at sending people as far away as Seattle for care, members of a regional health department board voted Thursday to repeal a local mask mandate.

“Most of our medical surgical beds at Kootenai Health are full,” Panhandle Health District epidemiologist Jeff Lee told board members in the state’s third most populated county.

The hospital in Coeur d’Alene reached 99% capacity a day earlier, even after doubling up patients in rooms and buying more hospital beds. Idaho is one of several states where a surge of COVID-19 infections is overwhelming hospitals, likely in part because cooler weather is sending people indoors, U.S. health officials said.

“We’re facing staff shortages, and we have a lot of physician fatigue. This has been going on for seven months — we’re tired,” Lee said.


He introduced several doctors who testified about the struggle COVID-19 patients face, the burden on hospitals and how masks reduce the spread of the virus.

But the board voted 4-3 to end the mask mandate. Board members overseeing the operations of Idaho’s public health districts are appointed by county commissioners and not required to have any medical experience.

Board member Walt Kirby said he was giving up on the idea of controlling the spread of coronavirus.

“I personally do not care whether anybody wears a mask or not. If they want to be dumb enough to walk around and expose themselves and others, that’s fine with me,” Kirby said. “Nobody’s wearing the damned mask anyway. … I’m sitting back and watching them catch it and die. Hopefully I’ll live through it.”

Another member, Allen Banks, denied COVID-19 exists.

“Something’s making these people sick, and I’m pretty sure that it’s not coronavirus, so the question that you should be asking is, ‘What’s making them sick?’” he told the medical professionals who testified.

Similar scenes — with doctors and nurses asking officials for help, only to be met with reluctance or even open skepticism — have played out across the conservative state. Idaho is sixth in the nation for new coronavirus cases per capita, with the average number of confirmed cases increasing by more than 55% every day over the past two weeks.

Still, Republican Gov. Brad Little has declined to issue a statewide mask mandate or limit crowd sizes beyond requiring social distancing at large events and in businesses, which is seldom enforced. Instead, Little has left it up to local health departments and school districts to make the tough decisions that sometimes come with blowback from the public.

In the southern city of Twin Falls, hospital officials told health board members this week that they too were in danger of being overwhelmed, with one out of every four hospitalized patients sick with COVID-19. The region’s hospitals, operated by St. Luke’s Health System, have been forced to postpone non-emergency surgeries and ship patients elsewhere.

“I want to be very clear: Punting those decisions is saying

Want to protect people with preexisting conditions? You need the full ACA.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has been hammering home the points that the Trump administration backs that suit, that a Supreme Court with Amy Coney Barrett on it might be sympathetic to the challenge and that the ACA is what stands between voters and the old days when preexisting conditions could disqualify you from coverage.

President Trump, however, continues to insist that although the ACA is bad and should go, “we’re always protecting people with preexisting conditions.”

“I can’t say that more strongly,” he said during his town hall last week.

Republican Senators up for reelection have been making the same claim. “You know, preexisting conditions is something we all agree should be covered,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said in a campaign ad this month.

There’s a danger that the two talking points will cancel each other out. (Both sides agree!) That’s why it’s important to understand the facts about why protections for preexisting conditions — the part of the ACA everyone seems to like — cannot be so easily saved if the rest of the law is overturned.

The ACA’s various taxes, subsidies and regulations make it possible for insurance companies to cover people with preexisting conditions (whose health care is generally more expensive). You can’t protect those people without the ACA or a substitute system — and the Republican opponents of the ACA have not offered a viable alternative.

Trump says that he has a competing plan, but what he’s done so far is the equivalent of waving a magic wand. Campaign-trail slogans aside, he issued an executive order saying it is the “policy of the United States” to “ensure that Americans with preexisting conditions can obtain the insurance of their choice at affordable rates.” But the president’s order carries no force of law.

Even if it did, you need a health insurance system, not a simple command from on high to achieve that goal. The details matter a lot here. First, truly protecting people with preexisting conditions requires a whole array of insurance regulations, not just one that generally prohibits discrimination against them. The ACA goes into significant detail to make sure there are no loopholes: It prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage, charging people higher premiums based on their health or gender, limiting benefits tied to preexisting conditions and capping insurance payouts for people who are very sick (either in one year or throughout their lifetimes).

Just as importantly, a plan to protect people with preexisting conditions has to contend with the economic forces that make doing so such a challenge. A key danger is what actuaries ominously call a “death spiral.”

If you guarantee comprehensive insurance to everyone, with no strings attached, people will tend to wait until they’re sick and need the insurance before buying it. With mostly sicker people in the insurance pool, premiums would go up, causing an even larger number of healthier people to drop their coverage. This process would continue and premiums would spiral out of control. The insurance market

EU medicine regulator seeks full results of WHO’s remdesivir trial

The EU’s medicines regulator has requested the complete results of the World Health Organization’s remdesivir trial, the European Commission said, after the study found the Covid-19 treatment to have no substantial effect on rates of survival.

The European Commission announced last week that it had signed a deal with the developer, Gilead Sciences, to supply 500,000 treatment courses of the drug, worth more than €1bn. Trial data had shown the treatment cut the time to recover from Covid-19 by as much five days, while Gilead had said the drug may also reduce the likelihood of death.

But the results from the WHO’s highly anticipated Solidarity trial, first reported by the Financial Times, found that remdesivir and other three other potential drug regimens “appeared to have little or no effect on 28-day mortality or the in-hospital course of Covid-19 among hospitalised patients”.

According to WHO officials, the organisation told Gilead of the findings of the Solidarity trial in September, as long as two weeks before the European Commission announced its deal to procure the drug.

“[The WHO] made a presentation to Gilead and other companies [on the results of the trial] on September 23,” Ana Maria Henao-Restrepo, a medical officer at the WHO, said at a briefing on Friday. “On the following Monday, September 28, [the WHO] forwarded [to Gilead] not only the graph, figures and tables, but the first draft of the manuscript”.

Ms Henao-Restrepo said the manuscript was “not exactly” the same as the one published late on Thursday, but that it contained the same numbers and conclusions.

Richard Peto, emeritus professor of medical statistics and epidemiology at Oxford university and chief statistician on the Solidarity trial, said the preliminary results “came to the same conclusions that you now see”.

In response to a request for comment, Gilead said the initial manuscript it had received from the WHO in September had been “heavily redacted”.

“As of today, Gilead has still not received the underlying data sets or statistical analysis plan necessary to validate the results,” it said. “We received the full manuscript, which included materially different information than what was included in the initial draft, only hours before it was published yesterday.”

The European Commission told the FT it had not made any payments under the October 8 Gilead agreement, which gives 36 European countries, including the UK, the option to buy future remdesivir supplies.

“[European Medicines Agency] will look at the Solidarity data . . . to see if any changes are needed to the way these medicines are used,” it said.

Gilead has priced remdesivir at $2,340 per five-day course on the basis that it cuts the cost of care by reducing the length of hospital stays, though the Solidarity results may have damaged that thesis.

Yannis Natsis, a policy manager at the European Public Health Alliance and a board member at the EMA, said the situation with remdesivir felt like “déjà-vu”, citing the large sums of money spent on past antivirals, such as Tamiflu, only