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In El Paso, hospitals are rushing to accommodate COVID-19 surge

The coronavirus set all kinds of records in the United States this week -- none of them good. More than 67,000 people are hospitalized, and the country has averaged close to 1,000 deaths per day for the past week. In Texas, which has recorded a million cases itself, hospitals are adding tents for extra bed capacity. Amna Nawaz talks to Dr. Joel Hendryx of the University Medical Center in El Paso.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    COVID-19 set all kinds of records in the U.S. this week, and none was good.

    Just days after passing 100,000 new cases a day, the U.S. reported 153,000 yesterday. More than 67,000 people are hospitalized, a record for a third straight day. The country has averaged nearly 1,000 deaths a day for the past week, the overall death toll so far, at least 243,000.

    States are under huge pressure. In North Dakota, hospitals are so busy, the governor will allow health care workers who tested positive to treat some COVID patients if the workers have no symptoms. Minnesota, Oregon, and other states issued new restrictions on bars, restaurants and social gatherings.

    New York City may stop in person school classes on Monday, sending students back to distance learning. The Republican governors of Ohio and Utah issued statewide mask mandates.

    This afternoon, President Trump spoke about the larger situation in the Rose Garden. He took credit for the development of vaccines to come, and he weighed in again on the question of a national lockdown.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Ideally, we won't go to a lockdown. I will not go — this administration will not be going into a lockdown. Hopefully, the — the — whatever happens in the future, who knows which administration it will be. I guess time will tell.

    But I can tell you, this administration will not go to a lockdown. It won't be a necessity. Lockdowns cost lives, and they cost a lot of problems. The cure cannot be — you got to remember, cannot be worse than the problem itself. And I have said it many times.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Let's look more closely at the costly impact of this surge and what the Biden administration might do differently.

    Amna Nawaz begins with the latest in Texas, home to one million cases to date.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Judy, Texas is also struggling with a big surge, in particular in the border city of El Paso, home now to one out of every six cases in the state.

    Hospitals there have added tents for extra bed capacity. Mobile morgues now sit outside the medical examiner's officer, which this week dealt with more than 150 deaths. And all this comes as a partial county lockdown has been extended.

    Dr. Joel Hendryx is the chief medical officer of the University Medical Center there, and he joins me now.

    Dr. Hendryx, welcome to the "NewsHour," and thank you for making the time.

    Let's start by telling people a little bit about what steps you have had to take, what adjustments you have had to make there to meet that surge of patients coming in.

  • Joel Hendryx:

    So, within the city of El Paso, and with all the other hospitals, we have created almost 600 new beds to be able to take care of this influx of new patients that we're taking care of.

    Understand, we also take care of other patients, those who need other medical conditions, and have to be in our hospital, as well as our COVID population.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Dr. Hendryx, I recall an expert telling me weeks ago the problem wouldn't just be beds with the surge; it would also be staffing. You need doctors and nurses and support teams who have that expertise in intensive care.

    How have you been able to meet that need, the staffing need?

  • Joel Hendryx:

    So, you're right.

    And, so, we are isolated out here, and there is a limited number of bodies, if you will, to take care of it. But we have been very fortunate, because the governor has sent an extraordinary amount of resources to us, as well as nurses, doctors. And it's been a process of integrating those within our systems with all the hospitals.

    We have the military. They have embedded doctors into our hospital to help us meet the demands of taking care of these extraordinarily sick patients.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    What about what's fueling this surge? We have heard so much about pandemic fatigue, about small gatherings of friends and family.

    From the cases and the patients you see, what's driving the surge in El Paso?

  • Joel Hendryx:

    Well, that's a good question.

    And I don't think I have all the answers. I have heard some good explanations. Certainly, we talk about some of the younger population having the majority of the infections and, unfortunately, passing it on. We have — we talk about gatherings. We talk about restaurants, big box stores.

    These are different areas that they have talked to us about. And I'm sure, if that's the exact number — we are at our border. We are lying just north of Mexico. And we also lie underneath New Mexico. So there's a lot of cross-cultural traffic that continues.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Now, we mentioned earlier that the lockdown has — a partial lockdown has been extended. There's been some back-and-forth from county officials and the mayor and others about whether or not to have additional restrictions.

    In your view, medically speaking, would a lockdown help to curb the surge you're seeing now?

  • Joel Hendryx:

    So, I think it comes down to individual responsibility, that they need to know that, even with a lockdown, you still have family gatherings, those type of things.

    And it's a matter of preventing the virus to spread. So, individuals need to use their masks. They need to follow the recommendations that are generally proposed to help slow down and stop this virus. These have been utilized throughout the world. And we want to make sure that our citizens, our individuals prevent that transmission.

    That's our goal. How you do that, that is — can be a political process. But, from our point, we just — if they don't get sick, they don't end up in our hospital. And, therefore, we will have the resources to take care of everybody.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    If people don't take those steps, what are you worried you will see in the next weeks and months ahead?

  • Joel Hendryx:

    Obviously, there are limited resources in anything that you do.

    And if we are able to get control of that, then we're able to handle what we have, take care of our other patients, and move forward. We have not gotten into the flu season yet. And, certainly, the resources we have now may not be here later because of other hot spots that can occur either in our state or around the country.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That is Dr. Joel Hendryx from the University Medical Center in El Paso, Texas.

    Doctor, we thank you for your time, and we wish you luck ahead.

  • Joel Hendryx:

    Thank you very much.

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