EL PASO, Texas -- El Paso city and county leaders expressed concern during a Thursday evening briefing on Covid-19 that the upcoming holiday weekend will fuel an ongoing surge in cases as people ignore warnings to avoid mass gatherings.
Those fears were expressed as coronavirus cases surpassed 2,000 in El Paso County with 3 new deaths reported earlier Thursday.
The concerns also come as El Paso prepares for further reopening of businesses on May 29 after a one-week delay was granted by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott because of concern over the local hospitalization rate. (See bottom of article for reopening details.)
"The number of cases admitted to the hospital has increased significantly," City/County Health Authority Dr. Hector Ocaranza reiterated during the briefing, "but there is still enough space to treat those Covid patients (for now)."
Dr. Ocaranza also answered questions about whether non-El Pasoans were taking up bed space in the city's hospitals. He said that only 25 people out of all those who tested positive and received treatment to date came from Juarez.
Mayor Dee Margo expressed particular concern about a further surge after the Memorial Day holiday weekend, because he said "most of our spikes have occurred from family gatherings" where we've let our guard down and not followed social distancing or worn face covers.
Margo also discussed worries expressed to him by New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham about the potential for El Pasoans to attempt travel to the nearby Elephant Butte resort community during the Memorial Day weekend in search of recreation opportunities.
The mayor strongly discouraged El Pasoans from even contemplating making the trek because the southern New Mexico community's main attraction, Elephant Butte Lake, remains closed on orders from the governor.
In addition, County Judge Ricardo Sameniego said he was ordering the closing of El Paso's Ascarate Park during the Memorial Day holiday period from Saturday through Monday in an effort to reduce virus spread.
The golf course would remain open, he said, but only for golfers who already have a reserved tee time.
Ascarate Park had recently re-opened walking/biking trails, fishing, kayaking and handball courts - but it has been the frequent target of social distancing complaints. Those areas will all be shut down until Tuesday.
The judge also noted that all other county parks remained closed, with no social gatherings or use of picnic shelters, basketball courts or sport fields allowed until further notice. Walking paths, he indicated, are open with Centers for Disease Control guidelines in place.
Below are the latest reopening details as provided by officials on Thursday evening....
Starting at 12:01 a.m. on Friday, May 29, 2020, the following will be able to operate with some conditions and minimum standard health protocols:
- Office-based services may operate at up to the greater of 10 individuals or 25 percent of the total office workforce and must maintain appropriate social distancing of six-feet.
- Dine-In restaurant services occupancy limitation increases to 50 percent of the total listed occupancy inside the restaurant.
- Massage establishments and or other facilities where licensed massage therapists or other persons licensed may operate and must ensure at least six feet of social distancing between operating work stations.
- Personal-care and beauty services that have not already been opened, such as tattoo studios, piercing studios, hair removal services and hair loss treatment and growth services may operate and must ensure at least six feet of social distancing between operating work stations.
- Childcare services must implement more specific social distance strategies.
- Bars and similar establishments that are not restaurants may operate at up to 25 percent of the total listed occupancy of the establishment.
- Bowling alleys, bingo halls, simulcast racing and skating rinks may operate at up to 25 percent of the total listed occupancy of the establishment. Bowling alleys must ensure at least six feet of social distancing between operating lanes.
- Rodeos and equestrian events may operate at up to 25 percent of the total listed occupancy.
- Amateur sporting events may operate ensuring there is no access to the general public and all participants have tested negative from COVID-19 prior to the event, quarantined for the duration of the event, are temperature checked and monitored for symptoms daily and tested again for COVID-19 at the end of the event.
Starting at 12:01 a.m. on Sunday, May 31, 2020:
- Professional basketball, baseball, softball, golf, tennis, football, and car racing events, with no spectators physically present on the premises of the venue may operate.
- Youth camps, including all summer camps and other daytime and overnight camps for youth.
- Youth sports may begin practices, but games and similar competitions may not begin until June 15, 2020. However, the public is once again reminded that City of El Paso facilities, to include City parks and recreational areas and facilities, will remain closed and therefore restricted until further notice.