Covid-19 death toll keeps climbing in El Paso, shelter-in-place order could be extended

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EL PASO, Texas – Another dozen-plus El Paso residents were reported to have died from Covid-19 in one day, officials in far west Texas said on Wednesday, and the county is considering whether to extend a contested stay-at-home order.

Since the coronavirus pandemic broke out in March, 696 El Paso residents have succumbed to the virus, according to a public health tally on Wednesday.

That number is up from 682 reported on Tuesday. Wednesday’s report also added another 863 cases of Covid-19.

The outbreak has forced officials to order 10 mobile morgues because space at the El Paso County Office of the Medical Examiner is already filled with 90 bodies. There were 154 bodies still in storage as of Tuesday afternoon, officials said.

El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego on Oct. 29 ordered all non-essential businesses to close in light of this latest Covid-19 spike. A U.S. District Court judge last week upheld El Paso County’s order, but the case is still being fought in appeals court by the state attorney general and local businesses.

That order ends at a little after 11:59 p.m. MST on Wednesday.

“Absolutely, 100 percent I think we need to extend it,” El Paso County Commissioner David Stout told NBC News on Wednesday.

Samaniego said the medical community is urging him to extend the order, but he’s still weighing all legal options.

“And that people are still not understanding the stay-at-home order or that someone from a distance is telling us what we should be doing in El Paso, I would just question anyone that’s not for that stay-at-home order to come by here” and see the situation in person, Samaniego said.

The sight of mobile morgues rolling into El Paso should be enough to convince doubters that action has to be taken, the county’s top official said.

“In our Hispanic community the burial is such a big part of our life’s celebration and to see that we’re storing bodies” is a sad state of affairs, Samaniego said.

Representatives for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton could not be immediately reached for comment on Wednesday.

A lawyer for El Paso restaurant owners challenging the county decree said his clients believe the state’s orders, allowing eateries to operate at 50-percent capacity, should be observed.

“They’re practicing all the right things and doing all the social distancing and everyone is wearing masks,” attorney Mark Osborn said Wednesday.

The prevalence of multi-generational homes and early confusion about which businesses were considered essential have made controlling the virus a difficult challenge in El Paso, county officials said.

Morgan Chesky reported from El Paso and David K. Li from New York City

Morgan Chesky

Morgan Chesky is a correspondent for NBC News.

Image: David K. LiDavid K. Li

David K. Li is a breaking news reporter for NBC News.

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