Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Friday joined a coalition of El Paso-based companies and sued Judge Ricardo Samaniego for ordering a two-week closure of the Texas County as coronavirus cases skyrocketed.
“Judge Samaniego is not authorized to close businesses in El Paso County. This is a direct violation of Governor Greg Abbott’s order,” Paxton said in a press release. “Recommendations should not be confused with requirements, particularly those that unlawfully incriminate individuals and businesses.
Samaniego said he ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses on Thursday because the El Paso County’s positivity rate has risen 160 percent this month since the pandemic began and hospital stays have increased by over 300 percent since the pandemic began. El Paso University Medical Center added another 100 beds to accommodate an overwhelming number of patients, along with an outdoor tent. However, it is reportedly sending patients to local children’s hospitals and airlifting critically ill patients to other cities.
In a press conference, Samaniego defended his decision as a way to protect the community.
“What I am doing now is not something that has not been tried before, but things that have worked not only for our community but also for other communities,” he said on Thursday.
Samaniego added: “Our hospitals are working to capacity, our health workers are overwhelmed, and if we don’t respond, we will see unprecedented deaths.
The closure contradicts Abbott’s disaster instructions, but Samaniego said he had received instructions from health care professionals, district judges and his legal department and said he had “a strong, solid, legal foundation to do what I need to do at this time.
The order closed bars, gyms, tattoo parlors, nail and hair salons and deemed a personal meal unnecessary. It also instructed residents to stay in place, except for essential tasks, which included election-related activities.
Last week, the judge ordered a city-wide curfew from 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. until November 8.
In a letter to Samaniego on Thursday, Paxton described the judge’s closure as “invalid and unenforceable” and stated that Abbott’s recent order to reopen these facilities “expressly prejudices any conflicting local orders. He also wrote that the closure was likely to “confuse the residents.
“We trust that you will act quickly to correct mistakes like this one, to avoid future confusion and litigation that would challenge the district’s illegal restrictions,” Paxton wrote.
In September, Abbott issued an executive order that increased the internal capacity of businesses and restaurants to 75 percent. Earlier this month, he also allowed the reopening of bars with 50 percent capacity in districts with low COVID hospitalization rates. Samaniego decided to exclude El Paso from the districts that allowed the reopening of bars, citing the 16 percent of all COVID-19 hospitalizations on October 10.
El Paso County reported 1,643 new cases on Saturday, an all-time high for the county. On Friday, the district reported 1,347 new cases, representing over 20 percent of the nearly 6,000 new cases in Texas that day. In addition, the district reported 10 of the state’s 115 COVID 19 deaths on Friday and four more on Saturday, with more than 900 hospitalizations due to the virus. According to Johns Hopkins University, the death toll in El Paso since the outbreak began is now 693 and rising.
El Paso Mayor Dee Margo, in a letter to Paxton, questioned the legality of the Samaniego closure, and the Attorney General’s Office provided a detailed response, stating that the order “exceeds the legitimate authority of the district.
Margo expressed concern over Friday’s shutdown, pointing out that he and Samaniego must work together as a team to combat the spread of the virus.
“I do not believe we can contain the spread of the virus by paralyzing our economy for any length of time,” he said during a press conference. “I will visit the district judge again to see him. Cooperation, as we have done in the past, is absolutely crucial to stop the spread of the virus.
Tekk.tv contacted the office of Paxton and Samaniego to comment, but did not receive a response in time for release.