El Paso businesses reopen after court blocks shutdown order

El Paso business began reopening Friday, less than 24 hours after a court of appeals quashed the county judge’s shutdown order as the city deals with one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in the country. On Saturday, the city of El Paso said reported1,512 new COVID-19 cases and 15 additional deaths. 

The three-judge 8th Court of Appeals in El Paso issued rulings on Thursday and Friday that County Judge Ricardo Samaniego could not supersede Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s October 7 order on reopening. On October 29, Samaniego had issued a monthlong shutdown order for nonessential businesses, but he was challenged by a group of restaurant owners and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

In the 2-1 majority opinion, the justices said “just as a servant cannot have two masters, the public cannot have two sets of rules to live by, particularly in a pandemic and when those rules carry criminal penalties substantially impacting peoples’ lives and livelihood.” 

In a statement, Paxton called it an “outstanding decision” and called Samaniego a “tyrant.” “I will not let rogue political subdivisions try to kill small businesses and holiday gatherings through unlawful executive orders,” Paxton wrote on Twitter.

Samaniego responded to Paxton in a tweet saying that it is “so unfortunate that Paxton, the ‘Texas’ Attorney General finds the opportunity to gloat instead of coming to El Paso to walk along side me by the mobile morgues with 144 El Pasoans; or send his condolences to the families of his 741 constituents who died of COVID-19.” 

He also said Friday that “to say that I am disappointed with the Court’s ruling would be a huge understatement,” according to CBS El Paso affiliate KDBC. He reminded the city’s residents that the state restrictions are still in effect, which limit non-essential businesses to 50% capacity while keeping bars closed entirely and forcing restaurants to close at 9 p.m. Gatherings remain limited to no more than 10 people and face masks are still mandatory.

According to KDBC, some businesses reopened almost immediately on Friday. The owner of one restaurant told KDBC that she understands the pandemic is serious, but they also have employees who they need to watch out for.

“It’s almost a circus. Every day you wake up wondering ‘can you open? Can you close?’ Can you do take out? Can you have people in?” she said. “This has made it difficult to plan ahead. You know as far as budgets are concerned, to be able to handle that so that everyone is making money and making a living the way we all deserve to do.”  

El Paso has been dealing with a surge in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, with the number of total cases in the city increasing from more than 30,000 on October 14 to more than 72,000 on November 14. The county has the third-largest number of COVID-19 cases in the state, where earlier this week, the total coronavirus infections surpassed 1 million.



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