EL PASO, Texas — El Paso County's top elected official ordered a two-week shutdown of non-essential activities as of midnight Thursday after the area's hospitals and medical resources were overwhelmed by coronavirus illness.
County Judge Ricardo Samaniego announced the measure during a news conference Thursday evening. Among the non-essential services ordered to be closed, effective at midnight Thursday, are tattoo, hair and nail salons, as well as gyms and in-person dining. He also appealed to residents to avoid all non-essential activities. Grocery and drug stores, funeral homes, health care services and government activities were among the activities deemed essential.
Samaniego said all election-related activities, including campaigns and voting, also were deemed essential activities.
“Our hospitals are at capacity, our medical professionals are overwhelmed, and if we don’t respond we will see unprecedented levels of death,” said Samaniego.
Local hospitals announced earlier this week they were asking some patients with illnesses other than Covid-19 to be airlifted to other medical centers to free up bed space.
Samaniego assured that county officials “have done everything possible” to avoid shutting down the county's economy.
“We need to build capacity for hospitals, build capacity, to shore up contact tracing and identify hot spots,” he said.
Samaniego said conversations with Gov. Greg Abbott for support “were not fruitful." Had that support been forthcoming several weeks ago, this shutdown might not have been needed, Samaniego said.
On Sunday night, Samaniego had ordered a daily curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Violators could be fined $500 under the order, but the curfew did not apply to people who are going to or from work or out for essential services, including grocery stores and healthcare.
Yet each day for the past week, more than 1,000 new cases were confirmed in El Paso County. Also, persons with other health problems have chosen not to seek hospital treatment because they believed they would be turned away because of the Covid-19 crush, he said.
“The hard truth is that the persons who are dying are El Pasoans. They’re not in Austin and I have the responsibility to do everything I can,” Samaniego said.
The move comes after Abbott’s statewide executive order recently allowed some non-essential businesses to reopen to 75% capacity.
Messages to Abbott's office about the judge's action were not immediately returned, however the state attorney general tweeted his view that the county's action was in violation of the governor's order.
El Paso officials reported two new Covid-19 deaths Thursday, bringing the total deaths to 585, and 1,128 new positive tests, bringing the total active cases to more than 14,000.
Read the full text of the Judge's order
Effective at midnight Thursday, El Paso Judge Ricardo Samaniego is ordering a shutdown of all non-essential services for a two-week period.
· For the duration of this order, all individuals living within the County of El Paso are ordered to temporarily stay at home or at their place of residence unless they are working in an essential job or accessing essential services.
· All businesses that are non-essential must close:
o Tattoo Parlors
o Hair Salons
o Nail Salons
o Massage businesses
o In-person dining
Retail- and food-to-go is still permitted.
· All essential businesses remain open:
o Polling Sites*
o Schools that provide meal services
o Childcare facilities
o Grocery stores
o Funeral services
o All healthcare offices and facilities
o Government operations
o Post offices
o And others listed in Order
· *Election Activities are essential services and not affected by this Order
o Election activities shall be considered an essential function and under no circumstances does this Order affect the voting or campaigning for candidates on the November 3, 2020 ballot.
o Election activities shall continue to follow Public Health Authority Orders and Guidelines relating to election activities.
o The public should be assured that election activities are safe and significant steps have been taken to provide a sanitary environment as well as follow all appropriate social distancing and face covering measures.
o ALL POLLING SITES SHALL REMAIN OPEN to continue election activities.