Appeals court temporarily stops El Paso business shutdown

Scenes from downtown near the international bridge on day one of the shelter-in-place order that was put in place by the county judge on Oct. 30, 2020, in El Paso. The El Paso mayor and Gov. Abbott are fighting the order in court.

El Paso County’s shutdown order had been in place since Oct. 30.

Credit: Ivan Pierre Aguirre for The Texas Tribune

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EL PASO — A state appeals court on Thursday put on hold El Paso County’s shutdown of nonessential businesses that was scheduled to last until Dec. 1.

El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego issued the shutdown order Oct. 29 in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, which has hit this area with such force that patients are being airlifted to other cities in order to make room at local hospitals.

Samaniego extended the order Wednesday, but a group of local restaurants and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton had been trying to block the effort since it was issued, arguing that it went beyond Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order that outlines what limits can be placed on private businesses across the state.

A state district judge permitted the El Paso shutdown to stand last week pending a final resolution of the case, but the 8th Court of Appeals paused Samaniego’s effort until a final decision is made. That could come as soon as Friday.

“I commend the 8th Court of Appeals for stopping El Paso Co. Judge Samaniego’s shutdown order — pending the final decision on the merits,” Paxton tweeted Thursday. “It is important that we do not shutdown the economy ever again, [and] this decision allows small businesses to continue to operate & pay employees.”

On the day of the appellate court’s decision, El Paso County recorded 976 new coronavirus cases, adding to the overall total of more than 68,000 since the pandemic began. The city also reported an additional 29 deaths due to the virus. About 1,150 people are hospitalized, including 287 in intensive care, according to city statistics.

El Paso Mayor Dee Margo, who’s been at odds with Samaniego over the shutdown, said during a news conference Thursday that since the beginning of the year, about 26% of small businesses have closed and more than 15,000 jobs have been lost because of the economic hit the city has taken.

“Besides the physical deaths, we have a lot of financial issues and families hurting,” he said. “They’re trying to put food on the table, they’re trying to pay rent, they’re trying to pay for their medicine.”