“First presumptive positive case of coronavirus reported in El Paso area” was the headline of the El Paso Times on March 13, 2020. The novel coronavirus, which had been the top story of every television news outlet and the headline of every local and national newspaper, had become a grim reality in the Sun City.
The pandemic all but shut down El Paso, cancelling spring break for students and leaving empty seats for the remainder of high school spring sports, graduations, and venues – like Southwest University Park, the Plaza Theatre, the Don Haskins Center, and the El Paso County Coliseum – empty. And “socially distanced,” “Zoom,” “virtual,” and “drive-by parades” became part of everyday vocabulary.
In the face of adversity, comes resilience. And with these challenges come creativity.
After Major League Baseball cancelled the minor league season, the Chihuahuas found a way to pivot, creating socially-distanced events such as Father’s Day Catch on the Field presented by Bank of America, Movie Night at the Ballpark with pods laid out for socially-distanced families and virtual 9-1-5K presented by Texas Gas.
The Chihuahuas and Locomotive mascots participated in virtual Zoom classes and raised more than $20,000 for the Chihuahuas Foundation via birthday drive-by parades, while both staffs volunteered their professional skill sets to non-profit organizations and contributing more than 1200 hours of service to the southwest region.
The El Paso County Coliseum created drive-in style experiences, such as movies in the parking lot and the Jurassic Empire Dinosaur Drive-Thru show. And the Sun Bowl Association, while forced to cancel the annual bowl game, still held the popular Thanksgiving Day parade – virtually.
On July 2, 2020, two days shy of Independence Day, and in an independence of sorts, El Paso Locomotive FC announced a return to play with a limited number of fans allowed into Southwest University Park and those that could not attend – fan cutouts graced the seats.
Despite the new rules including mandatory mask wearing, COVID screening upon entry, clear bag policies, and socially distanced seating, every Locomotive game reached a sold out capacity.
As a city, El Paso was learning to adjust and pivot to the new lifestyle. Families became more engaged with each other in ways they have never done before during lockdowns. Businesses learned to pivot with virtual meetings.
But a light of hope reached El Paso in December. The first COVID vaccine was issued in El Paso to nurses on the front lines, paving the way to a reopening.
UTEP hosted fans for the first time on January 8 and soon after announced the 2021 football schedule. The El Paso Rhinos hockey team allowed a limited number of fans for their games at the Hospitals of Providence Event Center.
The Don Haskins Center announced its first concert since the pandemic, Maluma, in September and followed with the rescheduling of Kayne Brown, who had to postpone after the shutdown, also in September. Schools are slowly opening. Restaurants are serving under limited capacities. Fans are returning to UTEP’s stands. The Chihuahuas announced – after 20 months without professional baseball in the Sun City – the 2021 season.
While the COVID pandemic changed the world in 2020, there is hope that a sense of normalcy will return. El Paso has learned to adjust. It will continue to be resilient and progress to new environments and rules and it will develop ways to adjust to this new way of life.