Nurses in El Paso, Texas, spoke out Friday against a court ruling that temporarily lifted the city's shutdown of non-essential businesses.
More than 30,000 people in El Paso currently have COVID-19. More than 1,100 of them are in the hospital.
"I'm just extremely exhausted — emotionally, physically," Idali Cooper, a registered nurse, said at a press conference. "It's very demoralizing."
More than 70,000 people have caught the coronavirus in El Paso since the pandemic began, and nearly half of them have it right now.
So it was with a mix of anger and horror that medical professionals in the Texas border town reacted to the news that a state court this week temporarily blocked a local order shutting down non-essential businesses — announced the same day as 29 new deaths from COVID-19.
"This decision was very irresponsible and insensitive to the needs not only of our community, but our healthcare workers," Idali Cooper, a registered nurse who works at pediatric intensive-care unit in El Paso, said at a press conference on Friday organized by National Nurses United, a labor union with some 150,000 members nationwide. "It is obvious to us that they have no idea what we're going through in the hospitals."
Since March, more than 50 registered nurses in El Paso County have been infected with the coronavirus, and half of their patients are currently hospitalized with it.
"I'm just extremely exhausted — emotionally, physically," Cooper said. "It's very demoralizing."
Late last month, El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego issued an emergency order shuttering non-essential businesses and limiting restaurants to delivery and takeout. That order came amid the latest surge in COVID-19: more than 30,000 people currently have the disease in El Paso, meaning that at least one out of every 25 residents is infected.
But Samaniego's order angered El Paso's struggling business community. It was also challenged by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on the basis that it violates Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order prohibiting local governments from going further than the state as a whole in terms of locking down local businesses.
On Thursday, Paxton welcomed a ruling by a state appeals court suspending enforcement of the order, pending a final decision. "It is important that we not shutdown the economy ever again," he tweeted.
Local leaders are frustrated that El Paso can't shut down more than the state does to control the virus
In El Paso, elected officials have spoken out against the state's efforts to overrule the city's more aggressive response to the pandemic.
"It is extremely disappointing that politics [is] leading our response to COVID-19," Alexsandra Annello, an elected city representative in El Paso, said Friday. "For any elected official to intervene in blocking these orders is dangerous and will only result in more deaths in this community."
Ariana Lucio, a registered nurse at the Del Sol Medical Center in El Paso, said she was "disappointed and concerned" by the decision.
"The last month has been just so overwhelming," Lucio said. "It's just been very life-altering and it's taken a very emotional and physical toll on the nurses, doctors — everybody."
Nurses in El Paso report that they are given just one N-95 mask to use per shift, violating the pre-pandemic norm of discarding them after each exposure to a potentially infected patient.
With the city's shutdown at least temporarily rescinded, there is a fear that the current surge could precede an even greater influx.
In a court filing this week, National Nurses United pleaded with the state to uphold the closure of non-essential businesses.
"[O]ur members witness the daily tragedy of a hospital system that has been completely overwhelmed in recent weeks, leading to a backlog of corpses as local funeral homes are filled to capacity," the union said.
It is expected that the case will ultimately be decided by the Texas Supreme Court. For now, El Paso's economy is open for business.
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