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El Paso County Judge announces 2-week shutdown due to surge in COVID-19 cases

Officials ordered a two-week shutdown of non-essential activities after the area's medical resources were overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients.

EL PASO, Texas — El Paso County officials have ordered a two-week shutdown of non-essential activities after the Texas area's medical resources were overwhelmed by the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

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

Samaniego said all election-related activities, including campaigns and voting, also were deemed essential activities.

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

Samaniego 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.

Samaniego said conversations with Gov. Greg Abbott for support “were not fruitful." Had that support been forthcoming several weeks ago, this shutdown might not have been needed, Samaniego said.

Late Thursday night, El Paso mayor Dee Margo tweeted he was seeking clarification from the Texas Attorney General on order, saying, "the Judge did not consult me and refuses to return my call, so I am seeking clarification from the Attorney General on the new County order, which does not supersede the Governor’s orders."

"What I can speak to is the hurt our community is going through. We must strike a balance of keeping our neighbors safe while not destroying people’s abilities to feed their families," Margo said.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton also tweeted a statement Thursday night:

"El Paso County Judge Samaniego has no authority to shut down businesses in El Paso County. This is a direct violation of (Gov. Greg Abbot's) executive order. My office is quickly exploring all legal actions."