El Paso County closing nonessential businesses as coronavirus infections continue climbing

As coronavirus cases continue surging in El Paso County, officials have ordered nonessential businesses to close. Credit: Emily Kinskey for The Texas Tribune

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EL PASO — El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego on Thursday ordered a two-week shutdown of nonessential businesses in this border area to help curb the record-breaking rise of COVID-19 cases that have overwhelmed hospitals.

The move comes after Gov. Greg Abbott’s statewide executive order allowing some nonessential businesses to reopen to 75% capacity.

For several days, El Paso has seen daily case counts that exceed 1,000 new infections, forcing the judge to install a curfew for residents from 10 pm to 5 am. Local hospitals announced earlier this week they were asking some patients with illnesses other than COVID-19 to be airlifted to other medical centers to free up bed space.

Thursday’s move however is more aggressive and necessary to save lives, the judge said during a virtual press conference.

“The hard truth is that the people that are dying are in El Paso. They are not in Austin, and I have the responsibility to do everything I can,” he said.

The order does not effect poll workers or voters who have not yet cast ballots during early voting in Texas.