Local NewsEl Paso Health Director Mandates Masks, City Council Authorizes Lawsuit Against Abbott in Defense

El Paso Health Director Hector Ocaranza implemented a mask order, and the city council voted 5 to 3 to indemnify it.
August 17, 2021
A mask mandate will take effect in El Paso County tonight. El Paso City and County Health Authority Hector Ocaranza announced that he would implement a mandate at an emergency city council meeting yesterday.

At the same meeting, the council voted 5 to 3 to defend his mandate in court and potentially sue Governor Greg Abbott.

Council representatives Peter Svarzbein (District 1), Alexsandra Annello (District 2), Cassandra Hernandez (District 3), Henry Rivera (District 7), and Cissy Lizarraga (District 8) voted to indemnify Ocaranza’s orders. Joe Molinar (District 4), Isabel Salcido (District 5), and Claudia Rodriguez (District 6) voted against defending the mandate.

Council members emphasized that Ocaranza, not the council, implemented the mandate itself. The council only authorized the city attorney to defend it.

Ocaranza said the mandate will apply to all indoor areas.

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“This motion is extremely important because the city is facing the delta variant that is spreading rapidly through our community. Our community, as stated before, is built of very vulnerable people,” Ocaranza said.

“It is my intent to have a local health authority order to have a mask mandate throughout the city and the county and all indoor establishments to include the schools, to include any building… for people when they go indoors and to be wearing their mask at those times… This is going to be with intent to protect public health and to protect our community that is being hit very hard and is considered very vulnerable.”

Hernandez said state law allows the mandate even though Abbott’s most recent executive order bans government mask requirements.

“As a mother of young children, I want to ensure their safety, and also want to limit the need for future shutdowns. Masks are a simple way to do our part,” Hernandez said.

“So we also must remember that the common enemy here is to eradicate COVID-19. It’s not for partisan politics, it’s not for personal liberties. If we all do our part, we can hold the line on COVID-19 positive cases.”

For other members, namely Molinar, the issue of personal liberties was central.

“I do not support a mask mandate. We have personal rights in the United States of America,” Molinar said.

“My father served in World War II to protect our rights. I have taken other oaths of office to defend and protect the United States Constitution against enemies both foreign and domestic.”

Not all three dissenting members shared the same reasoning. Salcido voted no for fiscal reasons.

“We are pleading with the El Paso public to wear a mask. It is common sense,” Salcido said.

“Unfortunately, the powers that be and our state government are not on the same side of the issue. I make this plea to wear a mask when you are indoors with others. With that said, this can be overturned in a week or so… and I want to avoid spending taxpayer money.”

Rodriguez made a similar point, referencing “the last time we faced a lawsuit” from the state when county Judge Ricardo Samaniego fought Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in court over a shelter-in-place order in November 2020.

The city attorney said El Paso hopes to file a lawsuit tonight and “get in front of a judge early tomorrow morning.” She also emphasized that this previous lawsuit only burdened the budget of the county, not the city.

El Paso ranks fifth in the state for total confirmed cases since the beginning of the pandemic with just over 140,000 cases out of the state’s total of 2.8 million. Currently, 98 of the county’s 1,400 hospitalized patients are lab-confirmed COVID-19 patients. The county has just under 2,000 total staffed hospital beds.


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Isaiah Mitchell

Isaiah Mitchell is a reporter for The Texan, a Texas native, and a huge Allman Brothers fan. He graduated cum laude from Trinity University in 2020 with a degree in English. Isaiah loves playing music and football with his family.

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