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Texas court blocks countywide coronavirus stay-home orders

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Kaylee Greenlee, DCNF

A Texas appeals court ruled that El Paso county cannot close nonessential businesses or issue a stay at home order for residents despite an increase in coronavirus cases, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

El Paso officials ordered a countywide shut down in response to local health officials claiming that tent hospitals and morgue trucks were running out of space as the number of cases continues to rise, according to the WSJ. The court ruled that the county cannot institute measures that go against state mandates.

Around 839,000 people live in El Paso County, where new coronavirus cases averaged 132 a day in September and increased to over 1,120 daily in the past month, the WSJ reported. On average, 10 people die daily of the coronavirus in the county.

Over half of all patients currently at local hospitals have the coronavirus, the WSJ reported. Nurses, temporary tent hospitals, and mobile morgues were sent to the county through state and federal aid.

El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego ordered nonessential businesses to close prior to Oct. 31 and extended the order past Nov. 26 to manage hospitalizations, the WSJ reported. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and several El Paso businesses sued in response to the order on Nov. 3.

“Judge Samaniego has no authority to flout Gov. [Greg] Abbott’s executive orders,” Paxton said, the WSJ reported.

The Texas appeals court agreed to overturn Samaniego’s order on Friday, according to the WSJ. Chief Justice Jeff Alley ruled that county judges aren’t authorized to overrule reopening allowances.

“A servant cannot have two masters,” Alley said, meaning that the county can’t prohibit activity allowed by the state, the WSJ reported.

Nurses said that there are not enough employees to care for all of the patients and that personal protective equipment such as N95 masks is being rationed, according to the WSJ.

“The worst-case scenario is the current reality here in El Paso,” nurse Juan Anchondo said, the WSJ reported. He criticized state officials for denying the emergency shutdown order which Anchondo said would slow the spread of the virus and ease demands on hospitals.

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