EL PASO, Texas (Nexstar) — The county judge and city mayor of El Paso are arguing about the best way to protect public health and the economy.
On Thursday night, El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego ordered all nonessential businesses to close as hospitals in the area have been at capacity since last weekend.
“El Paso County has never seen this level of infections through our community. Our hospitals are at capacity, our medical professionals are overwhelmed. And if we don’t respond, we will see unprecedented levels of deaths,” Samaniego said in a press conference Thursday.
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.
But, the city’s mayor, Dee Margo, said the judge made that decision alone. Margo worries for the workers who have already suffered during the pandemic.
“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.
Margo consulted the Texas Attorney General about the judge’s order.
“The Attorney General responded that the county order is unlawful and unenforceable, because it conflicts with the governor’s orders,” Margo said at Friday’s briefing.
The Attorney General later joined a lawsuit with other El Paso businesses fighting the judge’s order.
The judge said during Thursday’s press conference, however, he feels confident he has the legal authority to issue the order.
“Local officials do have levels of flexibility to make sure they are able to contain the spread of COVID-19. I am hopeful that the government will recognize that this is a short term remedy needed to contain the spread of COVID-19,” Samaniego said.
Samaniego does have the support of the five largest counties in the state. The Bexar, Dallas, Tarrant, Travis and Harris county judges all sent a signed letter to Gov. Greg Abbott, stating they agree Samaniego had the authority to order the shutdown.
The El Paso Police Department, however, said they will not be enforcing the shutdown, referencing the Attorney General’s letter sent to Mayor Margo.