EL PASO, Texas -- City/County Health Authority Dr. Hector Ocaranza implored El Pasoans on Monday to stay home for the upcoming Fourth of July holiday weekend to reduce the ongoing surge of coronavirus, as local officials banned fireworks and large mass gatherings among other newly issued directives.
“We recognize the community’s desire to return back to normal, but as we have reported over the last several days our cases are not decreasing and so we must be cautious in our approach to make sure we are caring for ourselves and for our most vulnerable,” Ocaranza said.
County Judge Ricardo Samaniego said he was banning all sales and use of fireworks throughout the county due to a combination of severe drought and Covid-19 concerns.
He said fireworks aren't prudent given both the fire risk and the likelihood of people gathering to view them. Anyone violating the directive could face misdemeanor criminal charges and a $500 fine.
Judge Samaniego also said there would be a major enforcement effort in both the Montana Vista and Red Sands areas for those who might be tempted to violate the order.
Mayor Dee Margo emphasized there would be no public fireworks displays or other events held for the 4th in the city - and he noted that any gatherings of over 100 people for parades or any other privately-organized activities were also banned.
"Everbody is concerned" at all levels of the county and city about quickly rising level of cases and hospitalizations, Judge Samiengo said, which he noted are some of the "highest in all of Texas." There were nearly 150 patients hospitalized and 2,000 active infections in El Paso on Monday.
The positivity rate from current virus testing locally is approaching 10%, a threshold which officials also cited as a reason for significant concern.
"We will persevere in the face of adversity, as we've always done, but we need the community to do their part,” said Mayor Margo, who again stressed the need for wearing face masks and maintaining social distancing.
Businesses in El Paso are currently mandated to require face coverings of customers and employees - or face fines.
The mayor also announced a set of new local emergency orders that aligned with recent directives issued by the governor. Those are as follows:
- · Prohibit the public from visiting nursing homes, state supported living centers, assisted living facilities, or long-term care facilities unless as determined through guidance from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC);
- · Limit organizations planning on having parades to 100 participants or less, unless prior approval from the Mayor is obtained, and require compliance with the Local Public Health Authority Order regarding parades which is found at http://epstrong.org/health-orders.php.
- · Prohibit outdoor gatherings in excess of 100 people unless prior approval from the Mayor is obtained subject to certain conditions or restrictions. This provision does not apply to activities or gatherings that are allowed by the Governor’s Executive Order GA-28;
- · Require outdoor markets, parades, and outdoor mass gatherings, comprised of less than 100 participants to follow the respective Local Health Authority Order found at http://epstrong.org/health-orders.php;
- · Restrict dine-in services by restaurants that have less than 51 percent of their gross receipts from the sale of alcoholic beverages, to operate at up to 50 percent of the total listed occupancy of the restaurant beginning at 12:01 a.m. Monday, June 29, 2020;
- · Prohibit the public from visiting bars or similar establishments that hold a permit from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) and are not restaurants as defined in the Directive;
- · However, bars or similar establishments may continue to provide drive-thru, pickup, or delivery options for food and drinks, to the extent authorized by TABC.
You can watch the entire briefing by city and county officials in the video player below.