‘Overwhelmed’: El Paso County halts non-essential activities

El Paso County officials on Thursday ordered a two-week shutdown of non-essential businesses after medical resources in the area were overwhelmed by illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

County Judge Ricardo Samaniego announced the measure during a virtual press conference Thursday. Among the non-essential services ordered to close, effective Thursday at midnight, are tattoo, hair and nail salons, as well as gyms and in-person dining. He also called on residents to avoid all non-essential activities. Grocery stores and pharmacies, funeral homes, health services and government activities are among the activities deemed essential.

Samaniego said all election-related activities, including campaigning and voting, were also considered essential activities.

“Our hospitals are at capacity, our healthcare professionals are overwhelmed and if we don’t respond we will see unprecedented levels of mortality,” said Samaniego, the county’s top elected official.

Samaniego said county officials “did everything possible” to avoid shutting down the county’s economy.

“We need to build hospital capacity, build capacity, strengthen contact tracing and identify hotspots,” he said.

Samaniego said conversations with Gov. Greg Abbott for help “have not been fruitful.” If this support had been provided several weeks ago, this shutdown might not have been necessary, Samaniego said.

On Sunday evening, Samaniego had ordered a daily curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Violators could be fined $500 under the order, but the curfew did not apply to people going to work or going out for essential services, including groceries and healthcare health. .

Yet every day for the past week, more than 1,000 new cases have been confirmed in Texas’ westernmost county. Additionally, people with other health conditions chose not to seek hospital treatment because they thought they would be turned away due to the COVID-19 crush, he said. declared.

“The hard truth is that the people who are dying are people from El Paso. They’re not in Austin,” he said.

A message to Abbott’s office on Thursday was not immediately returned, but Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton tweeted that Samaniego “has no authority to shut down businesses in El Paso County.” The tweet also claimed the order “is a direct violation” of Abbott’s opening executive order. “My office is quickly exploring all legal actions,” Paxton concluded.

El Paso officials reported two new COVID-19 deaths on Thursday, bringing the total death toll to 585, and 1,128 new positive tests, bringing the total active cases to more than 14,000. El Paso and Ciudad Juarez in Mexico, with a combined metropolitan population of 3 million, represents a hot spot in the deadly return of the virus throughout the United States with health officials blaming the spike on family reunions, multiple generations living in the same household and younger people going out for shopping or doing business.

Earlier Thursday, Texas prison officials said Thursday they were giving out N95 medical masks to people serving time at public facilities in the El Paso and Panhandle area, where the coronavirus has been on the rise in recent weeks. .

A spokesperson for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said it was standard procedure to give ventilators to inmates in custody in “areas that have seen a higher caseload.”

Prisons across the United States have struggled to contain the spread of the virus due to proximity to living quarters.

The largest US state prison system has reported more than 332 active cases of COVID-19 and 8 remand units across Texas, including one in El Paso on Wednesday. The El Paso area unit has one active COVID-19 inmate case, 16 employees who have tested positive, 111 inmates on medical restriction and five inmates in medical isolation, according to the online case dashboard of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

N95 masks are used in industrial and medical settings. They filter out 95% of all airborne particles, including those too small to be blocked by ordinary masks.

Earlier in the pandemic, state prison factories made cotton face masks that staff and prisoners could wear to help reduce the spread of the virus.

Statewide, active cases of the coronavirus and hospitalizations with the COVID-19 it causes continue to rise. As of Thursday, 6,430 new coronavirus cases were reported statewide. Those and the addition of 396 previously unreported cases brought the number of confirmed cases for the pandemic to 886,820. Of those, about 98,775 cases were active on Thursday, the most since Aug. 28.

The true number of cases in Texas is likely higher because many people have not been tested and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick.

Hospitalizations related to COVID-19 numbered 5,587 on Thursday, 63 fewer than Wednesday, when the highest number of hospitalizations since August 20 was reported. The 119 newly reported COVID-19 deaths brought the death toll in Texas to 17,819 since the pandemic first hit in early March.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that go away in two to three weeks. For some, especially older people and people with existing health conditions, it can cause more serious illnesses, including pneumonia and death.

Michelle J. Kelley