EL PASO, Texas (NewsNation Now) — El Paso County will be enforcing a non-essential business shutdown order issued by a county judge after the El Paso County Attorney issued a legal opinion in support of it.
The Sheriff’s office said in part:
“Based upon the opinion released last night from the El Paso County Attorney’s Office, it is clear that the County Judge’s order is in fact legal and enforceable. As such, the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office will be enforcing all the provisions in the new order.
COVID infections are out of control and continue to skyrocket with no end in sight. We are hopeful that the citizens of El Paso will understand the seriousness of this issue and voluntarily comply with the Judge’s order. Otherwise, enforcement action will be taken.”El Paso County sheriff’s office
In-person dining is among the non-essential activities County Judge Ricardo Samaniego’s order includes. The order also closed bars, gyms, tattoo parlors and nail and hair salons, and directed residents to shelter in place except for essential tasks. Grocery and drug stores, funeral homes, health care services, and government activities were among activities deemed essential, as were all election-related activities.
On Friday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton joined several El Paso County restaurant owners in suing to block a county order shutting down all non-essential activities for two weeks.
The suit, filed in state court in El Paso, came a day after Samaniego ordered the shutdown amid a skyrocketing number of COVID-19 cases he said was “overwhelming” the county’s medical resources.
In a tweet Thursday night, Paxton wrote, ““El Paso County Judge Samaniego has no authority to shut down businesses in El Paso County. This is a direct violation of @GovAbbot’s executive order.”
According to the lawsuit, the county order violated Gov. Greg Abbott’s emergency orders that reopened those targeted activities. In a letter to Samaniego, Paxton wrote that Abbott’s most recent order “explicitly preempts all contradictory local orders,” rendering the county judge’s order “invalid and unenforceable.”
In issuing the order Thursday, Samaniego said, “Our hospitals are at capacity, our medical professionals are overwhelmed, and if we don’t respond we will see unprecedented levels of death.” Samaniego, the county’s top elected official, assured that county officials “have done everything possible” to avoid shutting down the county’s economy.
“We need to build capacity for hospitals, build capacity, to shore up contact tracing and identify hot spots,” he said.
Even with extra resources from the state, Samaniego said there are no signs things are improving,
“We would exhaust the same resources, including using a convention center, using the tents at the different hospitals,” the judge added.
El Paso Mayor Dee Margo said Samaniego did not consult him about the shutdown order and refused to return his call.
“I am seeking clarification from the Attorney General on the new County order, which does not supersede the Governor’s orders,” Margo said in a statement.
Margo sent a letter to the attorney general, which he then posted on his official Twitter account.
“I’m the mayor of all our nurses, doctors frontline heroes are fighting to save lives every day to reality. I’m also the mayor to 32,000 unemployed. And I’m the mayor of 148,000 El Pasoans needing to feed themselves through our food banks for their families,” Margo said Friday.
He said the solution is more along the lines of personal responsibility and not a shutdown.
“We can control this by with our personal actions, wearing a mask, maintaining distance and hygiene,” Margo said.
El Paso and Ciudad Juarez in Mexico, with a combined metropolitan population of 3 million people, represent a hotspot in the deadly comeback of the virus across the entire U.S. Health officials blaming the spike on family gatherings, multiple generations living in the same household and younger people going out to shop or conduct business.
The Associated Press and NewsNation affiliate KTSM contributed to this report.