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El Paso closing parks in latest effort to control COVID-19 spread

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El Paso parks will close at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday as city and county leaders take more stringent steps to control the spread of COVID-19.

The new order was announced as the number of positive tests in El Paso for COVID-19 jumped by 18 on Wednesday, to a total of 68. El Paso has not yet reported any deaths to COVID-19.

“What it means is that the virus is in our community. We do need to take very serious action against this,” Dr. Hector Ocaranza, the city-county health authority, said at a news conference announcing the new restrictions. “If we all don’t participate, we won’t be able to come out of the pandemic in a better position. All these rules, orders and regulations are meant to keep us healthy.”

The 18 new cases — a 36 percent increase in reported cases in a single day — was the most in one day since the first El Paso COVID-19 case was recorded in El Paso March 13.

The revised “Stay Home, Work Safe” order places more restrictions on construction sites and requires essential businesses allowed to remain open to conduct regular health screenings of employees. But for many El Pasoans, the biggest change will be an order that closes parks, golf courses, tennis centers and other recreation facilities.

The order bans “all public and private gatherings of any number of people occurring outside or inside a single household or dwelling unit” regardless of size, unless for an activity specifically permitted in the order. Previously, gatherings of up to 10 people were permitted. The limit does not apply to people who share a home or other dwelling.

El Paso parks “off limits”

“All parks and recreational areas are now off limits,” Mayor Dee Margo said.

Officials have expressed increasing concern that El Pasoans weren’t following safe practices at parks, such as playing basketball and using playground equipment. Margo said requests for voluntary compliance weren’t working at parks.

“Looking at the recreational component, I know that’s something that the mayor had stressed as well as myself, that we needed that opportunity to be outdoors,” County Judge Ricardo Samaniego said. “Unfortunately, that’s where a lot of people are gathering. And obviously that has become a difficult situation for us.”

Samaniego said the order would close off the Red Sands area, which has been filled with four-wheelers since the original order was issued March 24.

City and county hiking and biking trails also are closed.

The order says hiking in Franklin Mountains State Park, where the city’s order has no jurisdiction, “is strongly discouraged, as responding to calls to aid lost, stranded and injured hikers detracts from critical resources needed to address the local spread of COVID-19.”

Construction site changes

City officials in recent days had expressed concern with construction sites, where workers often were close together and clustered in groups for lunch.

The new order says construction sites must comply with social distancing requirements, institute staggered shifts, make more toilets available for workers, mandate repeated hand washing for workers, and require mandatory temperature checks before a worker leaves home.

“If a worker has a fever of greater than 100 degrees Fahrenheit, then they are prohibited from going to work and must remain at home,” the order says.

All businesses remaining open must follow social distancing requirements, which the order describes as “maintaining at least six-foot social distancing from other individuals, washing hands with soap and water for at least twenty seconds as frequently as possible or using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, covering coughs or sneezes (into the sleeve or elbow, not hands), regularly cleaning high-touch surfaces, and not shaking hands.”

Anyone returning from travel 100 miles outside El Paso must self-quarantine for 14 days, the order says.

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Robert Moore

Robert Moore is the founder and CEO of El Paso Matters. He has been a journalist in the Texas Borderlands since 1986. His work has received a number of top journalism honors including the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, Pulitzer Prize finalist and the Benjamin C. Bradlee Editor of the Year Award. Moore’s work has appeared in the Washington Post, Texas Monthly, ProPublica, National Public Radio, The Guardian and other publications. He has been featured as an expert on border issues by CNN, MSNBC, BBC, CBC and PBS.

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