As cases slowly rise across the state, El Paso County Judge Ricardo A. Samaniego has ordered residents to shelter at home. The same order establishes a curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.
“For purposes of this Order, individuals may leave their residence, in compliance with the Shelter-at-Home and Curfew, only to obtain or provide the following essential activities shall herein be defined as ‘Essential Covered Services,’” the order reads.
The list of “Essential Covered Services” includes caring for family members, “essential” work, and distanced outdoor activity, among other activities. Voting and religious activities are also allowed.
The business restrictions in the order place no occupancy limits on churches, schools, or salons. It does strongly recommend that school districts end all extracurriculars until November 8.
The order also prohibits bars from opening, but El Paso’s high percentage of coronavirus cases — 36 percent of all hospital capacity — already prevents bars from operating, per Gov. Abbott’s order. Only county judges in hospital regions with COVID-19 cases under 15 percent of hospital capacity may open bars at 50 percent capacity again.
The order lasts until November 8 “unless it is modified, rescinded, superseded or amended.”
The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the hospital region covering El Paso, Hudspeth, and Culberson counties increased from 178 on October 1 to 783 on October 25.
Coronavirus patients isolated in intensive care units (ICU) has likewise increased from 72 to 202 during the same time period.
A timeline of El Paso County orders pertaining to COVID-19 can be found here.
Samaniego first declared a local disaster on March 13, thereby authorizing the later orders of his office limiting public gatherings. The county’s first shelter-in-place order came later that month on March 24. While the March order punished violations with, potentially, 180 days of jail and a fine of up to $1,000, this most recent order only levies fines no greater than $500.
Even though Samaniego issued his March 24 order a mere two days after Abbott called on local officials to put stricter standards in place, El Paso County got a late start. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins (D) ordered residents to stay in their homes mere hours after Abbott’s public encouragement on March 22, kicking off a statewide race to issue such orders that put twelve counties ahead of El Paso by the time Samaniego’s order took effect.
El Paso County ranks fourth in the state with just under 40,000 reported cases of the disease, right underneath Bexar with 52,000, Tarrant with 57,000, Dallas with 92,000, and Harris in first place with a whopping 158,000. All four counties issued their orders before El Paso.
Addressing fears of patient gluts at hospitals, Abbott announced yesterday that the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) will establish an auxiliary medical unit (AMU) and an alternate care site in El Paso. The alternate care site will set up shop at the El Paso Convention and Performing Arts Center with 50 beds. The AMU, attached to a local hospital, will provide more staff and up to 100 more beds to the hospital itself.
“The alternate care site and auxiliary medical units will reduce the strain on hospitals in El Paso as we contain the spread of COVID-19 in the region,” said Governor Abbott. “We continue to work closely with local officials in El Paso and provide resources to reduce hospitalizations, mitigate the spread, and keep the people of El Paso safe.”
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has also sent two Disaster Medical Assistance Teams and a Trauma Critical Care Team to El Paso. The teams, made up of lower-level medical workers, are meant to boost staff among hospitals and other medical sites.
Abbott has sought HHS authorization to house non-COVID-19 patients at Fort Bliss to ease the load on hospitals.
The Texas COVID-19 curve took a steep dip after its summer peak but has risen steadily over October in some regions.
The rural hospital regions that cover the Texas panhandle, including Amarillo and Lubbock, have seen the largest uptick this month, from 87 and 121 COVID-19 patients on October 1 to 239 and 309, respectively. That increase equates a change from 5.8 and 7.4 percent coronavirus patients out of the total hospital capacity in each region to 19.6 and 19.9 percent, respectively.
Cases have also swelled in the Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) region, rising from 788 patients at the beginning of the month to 1,406 patients on October 25 — an increase of 5.4 percent of hospital capacity to 9.5 percent.
For reference, DFW saw a peak of 1,965 patients and 14.2 percent of capacity in July.
The region covering Houston — the most populous part of the state that drove the peaks in July — has not increased as notably. Since October 1, the region has reported an increase from 469 to 673 patients, or 3.2 percent of capacity to 4.5 percent.
Daniel Friend contributed to this report.
Disclosure: Unlike almost every other media outlet, The Texan is not beholden to any special interests, does not apply for any type of state or federal funding, and relies exclusively on its readers for financial support. If you’d like to become one of the people we’re financially accountable to, click here to subscribe.