Transcript: Mayor Dee Margo on "Face the Nation," November 29, 2020

El Paso mayor blames "COVID fatigue" for recent spike
El Paso mayor blames "COVID fatigue" for rece... 04:56

The following is a transcript of an interview with El Paso, Texas, Mayor Dee Margo that aired Sunday, November 29, 2020, on "Face the Nation."

MARGARET BRENNAN: We go now to El Paso, Texas, where the pandemic is crushing that city of just short of 700,000 people. The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 there is more than the number hospitalized in 19 states and the District of Columbia. We're joined by its mayor, Dee Margo. Good morning to you, Mr. Mayor. I mean, the stories that I'm reading about your city, you're talking about hiring mobile morgues and having inmates carry bodies. The National Guard has now offered help as well. The convention center has been turned into a hospital. Why is your city getting hit so hard?

MAYOR DEE MARGO: MARGARET, we're not really sure. We- we hit, oh, about almost six weeks ago, we started spiking significantly. I think people just- the- 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. We did a deep dive in our contact tracing for the week of November the 10th through the 16th and found out that 55% of the positives were coming from shopping at large retailers, what we'd term as the big box stores. 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% 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.


MAYOR MARGO: Five hundred and ninety and then now we're down. But this weekend is always a misnomer for us because of the fact that private labs are not reporting--


MAYOR MARGO: --on the weekend.


MAYOR MARGO: We're just holding on.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So those numbers may be worse, in other words. I know you just said that you can't shut down big box stores because they're deemed essential. 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?

MAYOR MARGO: Well, we took the action. I took action, as Dr. Birx talked about the bars and the gatherings, I took action almost six weeks ago to close bar restaurants at 9:00 p.m., and--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right, but restaurants are still open and other stores.

MAYOR MARGO: Well, the- the restaurant bars we're- we were seeing a lot of congregating there. And so we shut them down at 9:00 p.m. for in- in-dining. 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. 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--


MAYOR MARGO: --and there's travel to Mexico. There's also those issues. But we're hopeful that we're, you know, getting our arms around it and people are understanding it. Right now in the hospital- the latest numbers I have on our hospitalization is we- we are at 79% of our hospitalization capacity, which gives us 21% excess of which we didn't have- we haven't had in some time.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you- I'm going to ask you because you are in a majority Hispanic city, and I know the CDC has said Hispanics are four times as likely to be hospitalized than white Americans. Do you know what your state's plan is to distribute a vaccine? And do you think that demographics, ethnic makeup, needs to be a priority there versus prioritizing people based on occupation?

MAYOR MARGO: Well, I think the- the primary- the governor has put out a directive, we- we purchased with our CARES Act funding four locations in addition to the three that our public health has for vaccine distribution and vaccinations. We bought the freezers. We- we bought the refrigerators that are required. But the governor's put out that the- that the primary first responders, health care workers the primary recipients. And then the most vulnerable, as Mayor Duggan talked about, will be number two. And yes, we are highly vulnerable as a community--


MAYOR MARGO: -- and four times what- what the average white Caucasian.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, Mr. Mayor, we wish you the best of luck. Thank you. We'll be right back.