UPDATE: El Paso City/County Health Authority Dr. Hector Ocaranza told City Council he planned to impose a mask mandate, requiring that face coverings be worn at all indoor establishments, including schools, starting Wednesday morning. The mandate would be in effect for 30 days and the re-evaluated based on local Covid-19 conditions.
In defense of Ocaranza's decision, Council voted 5-3 to file a lawsuit Monday night against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Ocaranza's mandate would defy an executive order from the governor banning mask mandates. The city's legal position is that state law allows the Health Authority to impose emergency health mandates - and the governor can't override it with an executive order.
Prior to the vote, 70 El Pasoans on both sides of the issue spoke out during a public comment session. You can watch that entire meeting in the video player at the bottom of this article.
Here are the details of Ocaranza's order, which will take effect at 12:01 a.m. on Aug. 18...
- All individuals over the age of two (2), are to wear some form of face covering over their nose and mouth, while in indoor spaces.
- A face covering may include a variety of options.
- Parents and guardians of children over the age of two (2) and under the age of ten (10) shall be responsible for appropriately masking children when outside their residence.
- A face covering is not required on anyone who has trouble breathing, has a medical condition or disability that prevents wearing a face covering, or is actively exercising indoors and not within 6 feet of any other individual not from the same household.
- A person is not required to wear a face covering while the person is consuming food or drink.
- Wearing a face covering is not a substitute for the Covid-19 vaccination, for maintaining 6-feet social distancing and handwashing, as these remain important steps to slowing the spread of the virus.
Ocaranza issued the following the statement that accompanied the details of his order:
“While our community has been doing a phenomenal job on getting their vaccines, our state is facing a very difficult time with the Delta variant, as we continue to see an increase in new Covid-19 cases, primarily among those who are un-vaccinated.
This in part is why we have continuously recommended the use of face coverings when indoors.
The scientific evidence behind the use of a face cover as a preventive tool is compelling and it has shown in our region a positive effect in previous surges.
We do not want to wait until we see another surge in our community, but rather take the necessary steps now to protect our community to reduce case numbers and the risk of deaths.
In addition to face coverings, we urge eligible individuals to get fully vaccinated as the vaccine remains to be one of the greatest public health tools that we have at this moment.”
ORIGINAL REPORT: EL PASO, Texas -- The El Paso City Council scheduled an emergency meeting for 4 p.m. Monday to consider taking legal action against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott over his executive orders limiting the ability of local governments to issue health mandates to deal with Covid-19.
The meeting comes after several school districts and a handful of counties across the state have defied Abbott's order that restricted local entities from instituting mask mandates. The Texas Supreme Court in recent days temporarily upheld that order from Abbott.
The meeting also comes after El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego over the weekend asked City/County Health Authority Dr. Hector Ocaranza to defy Abbott and impose a mask mandate as El Paso hospitals were nearing capacity.