EL PASO, Texas -- El Paso County Commissioners Court met for the first time Monday in the wake of County Judge Ricardo Samaniego's shutdown order for non-essential businesses due to a huge spike in Covid-19 infections and hospitalizations.
"I'm trying to do my best not to do a permanent damaging impact. We can bring businesses back, but we can't bring souls back," the judge told the court.
His order issued late last week is now the subject of a lawsuit challenging its validity. Commissioners held a closed executive session at one point to discuss the legal challenge, with an initial court hearing set for Wednesday.
While El Paso police are not enforcing the order, Samaniego reiterated Monday that sheriff's deputies and constables are enforcing it. He said constables have been issuing citations and closing down businesses within the city, and are notifying police of their actions.
Commissioners then allocated $250,000 in federal CARES Act funds to help pay for enforcement action.
Meantime, emergency management officials told commissioners on Monday that a makeshift hospital set up last week at the downtown convention center has now started receiving patients.
Samaniego observed the healthcare system in El Paso is currently "breaking down."
"We are in a critical situation and if we don't do the right things, then we will over burden a lot of different systems, from the hospitals to the morgues," he explained.
A number of officials warned of a grim winter if the virus continues to spread unchecked, leading to more deaths.
City-County Health Authority Dr. Hector Ocaranza told commissioners that the cause of death is currently under investigation for 242 El Pasoans suspected of dying of Covid-19. Officials explained deaths from contracting the virus typically take about four weeks to occur, from the point someone is diagnosed to hospitalization to fatality.
"If the fatality rates continues, we may need to use even more resources that we had preemptively scheduled for," Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Mario Rascon said.
He indicated there were 94 bodies in the county morgue as of Monday.
"Right now, we are at half-capacity of what we can hold at this point," he said, adding that his capacity count included four refrigerated mobile morgue trailers.
You can watch the entire commissioners court meeting in the video player below.