Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Friday joined several El Paso County restaurant owners in suing to block a county order shutting down all non-essential activities for two weeks.
The suit, filed in state court in El Paso, comes a day after County Judge Ricardo Samaniego ordered the shutdown amid a skyrocketing number of COVID-19 cases he said was "overwhelming" the county's medical resources.
In-person dining was among the non-essential activities Samaniego's order targeted. The order also closed bars, gyms, tattoo parlors and nail and hair salons, and directed residents to shelter in place except for essential tasks. Grocery and drug stores, funeral homes, health care services and government activities were among activities deemed essential, as were all election-related activities.
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According to the lawsuit, the county order violates Gov. Greg Abbott's emergency orders that reopened those targeted activities. In a letter to Samaniego, Paxton wrote that Abbott's most recent order "explicitly preempts all contradictory local orders," rendering the county judge's order "invalid and unenforceable."
In issuing the order Thursday, Samaniego said, "Our hospitals are at capacity, our medical professionals are overwhelmed, and if we don't respond we will see unprecedented levels of death." Samaniego, the county's top elected official, assured that county officials "have done everything possible" to avoid shutting down the county's economy.
"We need to build capacity for hospitals, build capacity, to shore up contact tracing and identify hot spots," he said.
El Paso and Ciudad Juarez in Mexico, with a combined metropolitan population of 3 million people, represent a hotspot in the deadly comeback of the virus across the entire U.S. Health officials blaming the spike on family gatherings, multiple generations living in the same household and younger people going out to shop or conduct business.
Ten of the 115 new COVID-19 deaths on Friday were reported in El Paso County alone, raising the county's death toll to 595 for the outbreak that's ravaged Texas since early March. The county also reported 1,348 new cases, almost 23% of the state's 5,933 new cases. The county had 15.5% of the state's 100,991 active cases, the first time Texas had topped 100,000 active cases since Aug. 27.
The true number of cases in Texas is likely higher though because many people haven't been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick.
And the 939 COVID-19 hospitalizations in El Paso County account for 16.7% of the state's 5,627 coronavirus cases requiring hospitalization. The state number is the highest since Aug. 20.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and a cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.