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Health & Wellness

El Paso County Judge Implements New Curfew Ahead Of Thanksgiving Weekend

A medical worker gives a woman a COVID test.
Eric Gay
/
Associated Press

County Judge Ricardo Samaniego hopes the curfew will help prevent more deaths in a region that's been hammered by the virus.

El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego has implemented a new curfew to help control the spread of COVID-19, as cases, hospitalizations and deaths surge in the border region.

The nightly curfew, which runs from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. and expires next Monday, is meant to limit social gatherings during the Thanksgiving holiday.

“This is a perfect storm,” Samaniego said at a press conference late Tuesday. “High numbers. The probability of another wave. The flu coming at us. Traveling from all over Texas and around the country. Black Friday and the holidays.”

The curfew does not apply to people traveling to and from businesses, including stores with extended hours for the holiday weekend.

The judge’s new mandate comes after a legal back and forth about whether Samaniego, the county’s top elected official, has the authority to implement stricter COVID restrictions than those outlined in Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order.

Last month, Samaniego imposed a curfew and ordered a temporary shutdown of nonessential businesses, like hair salons and gyms. Restaurants could only offer takeout and delivery.

Several local restaurant owners and the Texas Attorney General challenged the order, and a state appeals court struck it down.

Samaniego emphasized this new curfew is not as strict, and said he consulted with the governor’s chief of staff and a representative from the attorney general’s office.

“It was a favorable discussion and I believe that we arrived at the conclusion that I am able to issue an order,” he said. “I want this to be very clear, that it’s a partial curfew. It’s not as rigid as the one before. I need that to be very clear because we are going to talk about the balance between opening safely, but also making sure that our businesses continue to operate."

Samaniego noted that limiting store hours during a busy shopping weekend could lead to bigger crowds. Still, he encouraged El Pasoans to use store delivery or curbside pickup. If you absolutely have to shop in person, he said, only send one household member.

As he announced the curfew, Samaniego painted a grim picture of the situation on the ground in El Paso. Hospitals are strained, he said, with more than 1,500 medical personnel coming in to help with the surge. More than 230 bodies are being held in morgues, and members of the Texas National Guard recently arrived to help with the overflow.

Samaniego said the county is now building a temporary morgue in a warehouse, to store the growing number of bodies.

He noted that, as of Tuesday night, more than 870 El Pasoans had died due to complications from the virus — with nearly 500 more deaths still under investigation — and warned that number could grow much higher if people go out or gather for the holiday.

“If we avoid this, those individuals will have many, many more Thanksgivings," he said. "Many, many more Black Fridays. Many, more opportunities to be with their families.”

Mallory Falk is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Got a tip? Email Mallory at Mfalk@kera.org. You can follow Mallory on Twitter @MalloryFalk.

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