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Free bus rides and greater restrictions on border crossings. Here’s what’s new in El Paso’s coronavirus response.

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El Paso’s Department of Public Health has implemented new restrictions effective Saturday in line with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order earlier in the week. The United States and Mexico limited who will be allowed to cross borders. The city also has waived fares on Sun Metro transit vehicles. 

Here’s an update on how life in the El Paso border region continues to evolve during the cornavirus pandemic.

Groups larger than 10 are tightly restricted

Until April 3, all mass gathering events of 10 or more people must be postponed or canceled. This includes sporting events, concerts, festivals, celebrations and weddings.

The order does not apply to grocery stores, gas stations, parks and banks, “so long as the necessary precautions are maintained to reduce the transmission of COVID-19.”

Restaurants limited to take-out orders

People cannot eat or drink at restaurants, cafeterias, food courts or other places where food is served.

However, picking up food at counters, drive-throughs and at curbside “is allowed and highly encouraged.”

Restaurants can provide alcoholic beverages to go under the governor’s order.

Border-crossing restrictions

The United States and Mexico announced restrictions beginning Saturday that limit border crossings to “critical services such as food, fuel, health care and life-saving medicines .”

“’Non-essential, travel includes travel that is considered tourism or recreational in nature. Additionally, we are encouraging people to exercise caution by avoiding unnecessary contact with others,” the U.S. and Mexican governments said in a joint statement.

Transit fares waived beginning Sunday

Sun Metro, El Paso’s transit system, announced it was waiving fares beginning Sunday for fixed route bus routes as well as BRIO and LIFT services. Trolley service has been suspended.

Sun Metro officials said they have increased cleaning on transit vehicles, particularly “high-touch areas” stanchions, handrails, seat rails and fare boxes.

Riders are encouraged to follow safety guidelines at transit stops and on vehicles.

  • All passengers will board and exit buses through the rear doors. Boarding exceptions will be made for riders who have accessibility needs and require the use of the drop-down ramps located at the front doors.
  • All passengers are encouraged to leave two empty seats between themselves and others.

Beginning Monday, March 30, Sun Metro routes will run on a Saturday schedule on weekdays, reducing frequency of routes. Sunday schedules will remain the same.

Police changing the way they respond to calls

Police officers are modifying how the respond to calls, officials said in a news release.

“Dispatchers will now ask health and travel related questions to individuals requesting police response. Dispatchers may provide callers with specific instructions regarding their interactions with police, to include maintaining a social distance of at least six feet from officers,” the release said.

Police also ask people to use online or telephone options to file a police report if an officer’s response isn’t essential.

Bars remain closed

The health order issued March 17 remains in effect. All bars, lounges, taverns and arcades must be closed until at least April 1.

Day-care operations

No more than 20 children can be in a room at the same time. Lunches must be staggered to avoid crowding in the lunchroom.

Day-care workers over age 60 with chronic conditions must be assigned to areas with minimal exposure to children and visitors.

Children must be dropped off outside day-care centers; parents may not walk them inside. Only one parent can pick up or drop off a child.

Senior living facilities

Residents must be screened daily for temperature and respiratory symptoms.

In-person visitor access is suspended, though exceptions may be allowed for end-of-life settings.

Schools will provide free meals starting Monday

El Paso County schools remain closed until at least April 3. Area school districts will provide free breakfasts and lunches for children 1-18 at schools across the county beginning Monday.

The meals must be picked up by the children; they will not be allowed to eat in cafeterias.

El Paso Matters has a list of all schools serving breakfast and lunch.

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