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El Paso health chief orders bars shut down, restaurants restricted county-wide due to virus

Dr. Hector Ocaranza
City/County Health Authority Dr. Hector Ocaranza speaks recently about the virus pandemic.

EL PASO, Texas -- Dr. Hector Ocaranza with the El Paso City/County Department of Public Health issued an order Tuesday shutting down bars, clubs and arcades, while imposing restrictions on restaurants to help prevent the spread of cornavirus. (You can read the entire order at the bottom of this article.)

El Paso City Council voted unanimously to support his recommendations and also ban gatherings of more than 50 people. Ocaranza's order applies beyond the city to all of El Paso County; under Texas law, Ocaranza has the legal authority as health director to implement the order county-wide.

That order took effect as of 8 p.m. Tuesday and will last for at least two weeks. Not following the order could result in a $500 fine per violation.

While bars needed to close, restaurants remained opened with limits on the number of people allowed inside. The order said food-serving operations shall operate at no greater than 50% of maximum occupancy.

Additionally, no more than six patrons are allowed to be seated together at tables or booths and all occupied tables and booths must be separated by at least six feet.

The order said restaurants which are combined with a bar may stay open, but people are not allowed to sit at the bar.

The Speaking Rock Entertainment Center in the city's Lower Valley, which had maintained it was exempt from the order because it sits on tribal land, decided nonetheless to follow the county's lead. It announced it would stay open, but shut down the bars at the venue.

The health department also issued additional directives Tuesday evening aimed at workplaces, senior centers, and daycare centers.

El Paso has had three confirmed virus cases thus far, two men in their 40s and a teenage student at UTEP. There is also one confirmed case across the border in Juárez. As of Tuesday, health officials said 33 El Pasoans had been tested.

Article Topic Follows: El Paso

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