With hospitals full, El Paso extends business shutdown for 3 weeks

ByBY JULIÁN AGUILAR, The Texas Tribune
Monday, November 16, 2020
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EL PASO, Texas -- El Paso's temporary shutdown of nonessential businesses will continue for at least three more weeks under a new executive order issued by County Judge Ricardo Samaniego. The move extends a previous order Samaniego issued on Oct. 29 in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19 in this border city, where local hospital beds are scarce because of a surge of coronavirus patients.

The county has struggled to contain new infections, which have exceeded 1,000 daily cases several times during the last two weeks. The outbreak was responsible for another 14 deaths reported Wednesday, and active cases in this border area are now at more than 29,000. Nearly 1,100 patients are hospitalized, including 279 in intensive care, according to the latest government statistics.

Samaniego's extension of the shutdown order until Dec. 1 comes despite the Texas attorney general's office's ongoing efforts to have the county order quashed in court. Attorney General Ken Paxton and local restaurants argued the order exceeded the restrictions permitted under Gov. Greg Abbott's own order, which outlines what limits can be placed on private businesses.

A state district judge last week permitted the El Paso shutdown order to stand pending a final resolution of the case. The Texas Supreme Court on Wednesday also declined to halt the order and instead said a resolution from the state's 8th Court of Appeals is expected later this week.

Samaniego said during a virtual press conference on Wednesday that the extended shutdown was "a short-term effort to make sure we don't have a long-term impact on our community."

"Right now, all I am asking is to [hit] the reset button, let's do the right thing ... let's do two to three weeks of really trying to do the best, and we won't be here in January or February," he said.

The number of total cases recorded in El Paso County since the pandemic began is more than 65,000, about 8,000 greater than Bexar County, which includes San Antonio and has more than twice the population. The emergency has led hospitals in El Paso to ask for patient volunteers willing to be airlifted to other cities in order to free up bed space in local facilities. The local convention center has been converted into a makeshift field hospital, and at least six refrigeration trailers have been used or are on standby to help store the remains of COVID-19 patients.

Last week Abbott announced a deployment of some 60 medical personnel from the U.S. Air Force to the area to assist city officials. Abbott on Wednesday said the state was also sending additional resources to El Paso to supplement the state's alternate care site set up at the convention center in late October.

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