EL PASO, Texas – The top elected official for El Paso County, Texas, on Tuesday announced a new curfew to help combat the spread of the coronavirus, which is overrunning the border area’s hospitals and funeral homes.
County Judge Ricardo Samaniego said the curfew would go into effect on Wednesday and would run from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. The curfew would end on Monday.
The curfew is not as rigid as previous ones the county has ordered during the pandemic as it is designed to stop social and recreational activities, Samaniego said. Residents will still be able to go to essential and non-essential businesses, he said.
“I will use every tool that I have such as issuing a curfew to slow the spread of this virus," Samaniego said during a news conference Tuesday evening.
Samaniego said he is also asking businesses to help limit large crowds during holiday shopping this weekend. He also asked residents to shelter at home and limit their outings to stores and to celebrate Thanksgiving with only the members of their household and have virtual celebrations with other relatives.
Samaniego said he worried many more people might die because of the worsening situation El Paso finds itself in.
If these guidelines are followed, “those individuals will have many, many more Thanksgivings ... many more opportunities to be with their families," he said.
Samaniego said that Gov. Greg Abbott’s office has approved the curfew.
The county judge and state officials have been at odds over Samaniego’s efforts to implement rules to slow the virus’ spread in the border city of El Paso.
Earlier this month, an appeals court overturned an El Paso County order that would have closed nonessential businesses, including gyms and salons.
El Paso County, which has more than 839,000 residents, on Tuesday reported 36,640 active COVID-19 cases, more than any other county in the state.
Last week, the Texas National Guard sent a 36-member team to El Paso to assist morgues with the number of dead due to COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Jail inmates are being paid to move bodies and county leaders have offered $27 an hour for morgue workers.
Samaniego said El Paso County is currently operating 13 mobile morgues and they are holding the bodies of 236 individuals.
El Paso County is not an outlier in Texas as the number of new coronavirus cases and deaths have spiked in recent weeks across the state.
Texas recorded 13,998 coronavirus cases Tuesday, setting a new daily record that surpassed by 1,401 the previous one-day high set on Saturday.
The Texas Department of State Health Services on Tuesday also announced 162 new deaths and 8,495 virus hospitalizations.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Texas has risen from 7,680 new cases per day on Nov. 9 to 10,441 on Monday, based on data from Johns Hopkins University.
The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths increased from 96 to 144 per day during the same time period. Texas’ 21,049 COVID-19 related deaths to date are the second highest in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins.
Dolores Espinoza, 38, a patient care assistant at Las Palmas Medical Center in El Paso told The Associated Press last week that a man in his 40s being treated at her hospital for COVID-19 had to celebrate his birthday alone. His wife had recently died from the virus.
Espinoza said the cafeteria sent the man a cake and the nurses wished him a happy birthday as he cried and told them, “This is the saddest day because I have nobody.”
Espinoza said there is little to no space left in her hospital, most rooms already have two beds and every floor but hers is devoted to COVID-19 patient care.
Earlier Tuesday, Abbott announced the state has established a wing at an alternate care site set up in El Paso’s convention center to administer a new antibody drug similar to a treatment President Donald Trump received after contracting the virus last month.
The drug, called bamlanivimab, may help clear the coronavirus sooner and possibly cut hospitalizations in people with mild to moderate COVID-19.
The infusion wing, which began accepting patients Tuesday, has been provided with 1,000 doses of the drug.
“The establishment of the bamlanivimab infusion wing ... is crucial to keeping hospitalizations down and protecting at-risk Texans in the community,” Abbott said.
State health officials have said only an extremely limited supply of the drug is coming to Texas.
KVUE-TV reported Tuesday that Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell planned to plead guilty and pay a $1,000 fine for violating his own emergency coronavirus order when he attended his grandchild’s birthday party in the spring. In a statement, Gravell apologized for a “lapse in judgment." The county is located north of Austin.
Associated Press writer Acacia Coronado in Austin contributed to this report.