EL PASO – County Judge Ricardo Samaniego on Thursday called for a shutdown of all nonessential businesses here for two weeks as the city faces record-setting numbers of coronavirus cases, overwhelming hospitals overwhelmed.
Samaniego’s order sets up a possible confrontation with Gov. Greg Abbott, who had issued a statewide executive order allowing some nonessential businesses to reopen at 75% capacity. El Paso, ravaged by record numbers of coronavirus cases, has reached 100% hospital capacity because of the virus.
Efforts to reach the governor’s office late Thursday were unsuccessful.
“I respect the governor’s order,” said Samaniego, flanked by political and medical leaders. “But the people who are dying are El Pasoans. They are not in Austin and I have the responsibility to do everything I can.”
“This is not a fight against the governor or anyone else,” he later said in Spanish. “This is a fight against a virus, an invisible virus.”
The order was to take effect Thursday at midnight. Nonessential businesses include gyms, massage parlors, hair salons and in person dining. Samaniego said the move will not impact voting, calling it an essential business.
“Please go out and vote. It will be safe,” Samaniego said.
Samaniego said the move is needed, especially before the holiday season
“It is not martial law,” he said, saying the responsibility for people to halt the spread of the virus comes down to individual residents who must take the situation seriously and work toward stopping the COVID-19 virus. “The numbers are trending up, not down.”
Public health officials reported Thursday morning a record 14,359 known active COVID-19 cases, including 934 people hospitalized and 245 in ICU, as of Thursday. El Paso has a 17.24% rolling seven-day average positivity rate.
The county reported 1,128 new coronavirus cases Thursday. There have been 585 deaths since the arrival of the pandemic seven months ago.
Samaniego said he consulted with county lawyers, current and former county judges, and other regional leaders, including those in neighboring Las Cruces and Ciudad Juarez, before making his decision.
“I feel like we’ve done enough to get some understanding,” he said. “If we don’t respond, we will see unprecedented levels of death.”
“Come on community, show me, show us,” he pleaded.
Samaniego said he’s had only one conversation with Abbott, which Samaniego said was “not fruitful.”
The announcement was made via-teleconference. Samaniego was joined by leaders that included U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar. D-El Paso. Missing from the meeting was El Paso Mayor Dee Margo, and other city officials, an absence that Escobar called “very unfortunate
“My relationship (with Abbott) is very limited,” he said. “I’m asking him to do everything that he can.” And he noted that the mayor does have a close relationship with Abbott, a fellow Republican.
“We’re just taking different approaches,” he said.