EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – The mayor of El Paso and the county judge are urging border residents not to let their guard down against COVID-19 and continue wearing face masks, despite Texas Gov. Greg Abbott lifting the requirement on March 10.
They also said that hospitals, government buildings, colleges and El Paso International Airport will continue enforcing the use of face masks, as will some private businesses such as “big box” retailers like Target and car dealerships like GM and Toyota.
“We are not going to allow people to go into any county facility without wearing a mask. Our employees are going to wear masks; some who are not working from the office now will continue to do so,” County Judge Ricardo Samaniego said. “We need to continue being role models. Nobody is saying you have to (stop wearing masks), but it’s about how concerned you are about your employees, your clients.”
Abbott on Tuesday announced the mandatory end of face masks in the state and said he wanted businesses to reopen at 100%.
Speaking on a live teleconference on YouTube, Samaniego and El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser said they will support businesses that have endured tremendous losses during the pandemic and are looking forward to the day they can reopen at 100%, but in a safe manner.
“We’re not saying we shouldn’t open businesses. We’re sensitive about the economy not opening now. We’re talking about the timing,” Samaniego said. “We’re talking about the timing and the circumstances. […] We are trying to open in the best possible way. If our vaccine (rate) were ahead of us, if we were in a situation where we feel we could open, we’d be pushing this, we’d be celebrating going back to normal. But it’s not the time.”
The mayor and the county judge said their legal authority to countermand Gov. Abbott is limited, but said they can still order local businesses to limit occupancy if hospitalization rates exceed 15% for seven consecutive days. As of Wednesday, that rate stood at 14.2%, with 280 bodies still in mobile morgues and more than 300 suspicious deaths under investigation.
“It is not time to let our guard down,” Leeser said. “As a biz owner, you have the right to request that customers wear face masks. […] I can tell you our community has come a long way. In November, we were the worst in the country (in terms of COVID-19). It’s not time to take a step back. It’s time to be united. I ask the people of El Paso to continue wearing masks.”
Samaniego said he doesn’t want to see the region go back to a time it was reporting hundreds of new infections daily and dozens of deaths for days at a time.
Leeser said he would lead by example, requiring his 160 car dealership employees and customers to wear the masks and practice social distancing. He said he has spoken to other business owners who plan to continue protecting their employees and customers in a similar manner.
“They feel our community is not ready (to drop the masks). It has become important to us to protect ourselves. Nothing has really changed for our city because we’re a city of strength and togetherness,” said Leeser, who lost his mother and a brother to COVID-19 earlier.