EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – The mayor of El Paso says he’s asked big-box retailers Walmart, Target and others to limit occupancy to reduce the spread of COVID-19, which has reached critical levels in the city.
Mayor Dee Margo is also asking residents, particularly those in their 20s and 30s most likely to avidly patronize restaurants at night, to avoid gathering with friends once the establishments close at 9 p.m.
“Three weeks ago, we limited all restaurants and converted bars to close their kitchen at 9 p.m. so the crowds would disperse,” Margo said Thursday. “What we find is happening is they shut down at 9 but the patrons are leaving and gathering at homes and other areas and there is significant spread coming from family and non-family gatherings.”
El Paso in the past two weeks has seen an unprecedented number of new COVID-19 cases and fatalities and is enforcing state-mandated restrictions on occupancy and hours of operations. It has also shut down bars, but some have reconverted to restaurants so they can stay open.
The City-County Health Department recently determined that the virus is spreading primarily at stores, restaurants, cross-border travel and private gatherings.
Speaking at a Thursday afternoon press conference, Margo said the city can’t place restrictions on the large department stores that sell essential items – those fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).
However, he said he’s reached out to their corporate managements requesting they take “proactive action” to voluntarily reduce occupancy. He said the initial response from the retailers has been positive.
Margo is also urging residents to limit the number of people who go out shopping.
“We know that a lot of this is coming from shopping at primarily the big box retailers. Shopping in El Paso – given our culture, our nature – is a family event. And we have stressed, please don’t take your family shopping if you can do it with one person,” the mayor said.
The city remains at odds with county government over an order the latter issued last week shutting down all non-essential businesses in El Paso County.
The El Paso Police Department said it would not enforce that order and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and state Attorney General Ken Paxton have called it illegal. The matter remained under litigation Thursday afternoon in an El Paso courtroom.