“Our hospitals are at capacity. Our medical professionals are overwhelmed. If we don’t respond, we will see unprecedented levels of deaths,” Samaniego said at a news briefing.
Essential businesses, including grocery stores, schools, child care centers, pharmacies and health care facilities, will remain open, he said. He said the order takes effect at midnight.
He said voting will also be considered an essential activity.
“I call on every single El Pasoan to stay home unless you are working in an essential job or accessing essential services, including exercising your right to vote,” Samaniego said.
The number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have been gradually climbing in El Paso County. There are currently 14,359 active cases of the virus in the county, Samaniego said.
The judge had previously ordered a 10 p.m. curfew for residents in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus. Local hospitals announced earlier this week that they planned to airlift some non-COVID patients to hospitals in other cities to make room.
The new stay-at-home order, though, marks one of the most aggressive actions taken by the county to date in response to the virus, Samaniego acknowledged.
The announcement comes about three weeks after Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order allowing bars in some counties to reopen at 50% capacity.
“I’m also very cognizant and respectful of the governor’s orders. The hard truth is that the people who are dying are El Pasoans. They were not in Austin and I have the responsibility to do everything I can to protect El Pasoans,” Samaniego said.
CEO of the University Medical Center in the city of El Paso, Jacob Cintron, said his hospital is currently caring for 937 COVID-19 patients, “the highest we’ve ever been.”
The hospital now has 236 intensive care beds dedicated to COVID-19 patients, he said, compared with just 35 in April.
Staff have set up tents outside the hospital to expand capacity, he said, adding that the hospital has purchased some of the tents while others have been allocated by the federal Department of Health and Human Services.
The Texas Division of Emergency Management is currently setting up a field hospital in the El Paso Convention and Performing Arts Center, which will boost capacity by up to 100 beds. The governor has also requested that the federal government authorize the use of a military hospital for non-COVID patients in El Paso.
“Our challenge is, as the number of individuals that require hospitalization grows, at some point, logically, we’re going to run out of capability,” he said. “What really needs to change is behavior.”
Cintron said that as hospitals fill up, it impacts their ability to not only care for COVID-19 patients but also standard patients who continue to require medical attention, as well.
“More and more, our beds are being allocated to cover individuals that are infected with the COVID virus.”
Cintron and Samaniego both urged people to follow public health guidance by practicing social distancing, wearing a mask, avoiding large gatherings and washing hands frequently.