VIRUS EMERGENCY CARE

Tanks of oxygen are unloaded from a truck near the emergency room at The Hospitals of Providence Sierra Campus earlier this month.

The county judge has again announced new rules to limit social gatherings as El Pasoans get ready for a quiet, unusual Thanksgiving amidst a COVID-19 surge.

El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego on Tuesday announced a county-wide curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m daily. The new rules, which also limit gatherings to 10 people, are a continuation of Samaniego’s attempts to place restrictions on the community to slow the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus.

This time, Samaniego said, he’s been in communication with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s chief of staff, Luis Saenz, and with a representative from the Texas attorney general’s office, and that he was told he can move forward with the curfew.

The latest order is not as strict as the previous one that was blocked by the Eighth Court of Appeals after the Texas attorney general joined several local restaurants to challenge it in court.

Samaniego said he believes the community needs to be prudent over the next five days and that there’s “nothing more important than to safely handle Black Friday and Thanksgiving,” he said at a virtual news conference on Tuesday.

He said the curfew applies to “social and recreational activities,” and it would end at 5 p.m. Monday.

According to the county, the curfew does not apply to shopping to allow stores to remain open for extended hours so they can minimize crowds. Even so, shoppers are “strongly encouraged” to use curbside, to-go, drive-thru and home delivery services. Restaurants remain limited to 50 percent capacity and bars closed.

Samaniego said he’s asking for cooperation from “big box” stores during Black Friday, and asked that stores make efforts to ensure people are not congregating inside.

“We’re strongly encouraging businesses to open and have wider opportunities for shoppers to avoid any congregation,” Samaniego said. “We’re asking everyone for the possibility of extending sales and so forth.”

City and county officials on Tuesday also gave an update on the mortuary situation in El Paso.

Samaniego said there are currently 236 bodies being held in the county’s morgue. He said there are 489 deaths under investigation.

Samaniego also said the county is opening a temporary morgue at an undisclosed location.

Right now, there are several mobile morgue units in the county. Samaniego said there are 10 refrigerated trailers, with one not in operation, and there are four mobile morgues at a holding facility.

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