El Paso COVID-19 Shutdown Should Be Overturned: George Kelemen

When the COVID-19 pandemic first struck Texas earlier this year, it required a great deal of flexibility from us all.

Many quickly moved their lives online while health experts rushed to learn more about the virus and government officials worked to find solutions for preventing widespread outbreaks. In many areas, that process involved complete shutdowns to contain the Coronavirus until public health officials had a better grasp on what we can each do to play our part in flattening the curve.

This rapid response to protect public health was admirable, and our elected officials, medical professionals, and policymakers deserve full credit for putting the well-being of others first so that we could better understand the challenges facing us and move toward a safe reopening of our economy. Their efforts have helped to show us the importance of wearing a mask in public spaces and following the right social distancing protocols, and have also zeroed in on the sources of recent spikes in confirmed cases, such as small private gatherings. 

This work has also helped to provide robust COVID-19 guidelines for retail businesses to reopen safely, and businesses right here in Texas and throughout the country have been closely following that guidance in order to provide both a safe shopping environment for their customers and a sanitary workplace for employees. Data currently demonstrates that, unlike household gatherings, retail stores are not driving the spread of COVID-19.

In fact, retail businesses and indoor shopping centers have gone beyond what health experts recommend, and in some cases began putting these protocols into effect before government officials required them to do so. They have been actively requiring anyone who comes into a store to wear a facemask, closely monitoring to make sure social distancing rules are being followed, and taking necessary capacity precautions to make sure there are not too many people in a store at a given time.

Given how hard these businesses have worked to successfully reopen in a safe manner, it was concerning to see El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego issue an order to shut businesses back down, though that order fortunately has now been struck down. While well-intentioned, allowing such an order to stand would risk creating serious problems for the retailers who would be forced to close and harming some of the most important job creators in the El Paso community.

Many Texas business owners and workers are just beginning to find their footing after a rough shutdown period earlier this year, and another shutdown may force many businesses to close for good. This would make an already uncertain future all the more challenging for the Texans who have been struggling to make ends meet during this pandemic.

I hope that, when weighing any further action, Judge Samaniego involves the business community in the decision making process. The Texas Retailers Association has already worked closely with several other county judges across the state during this pandemic to allow retailers to remain open and operate safely, and we welcome the opportunity to work with Judge Samaniego and his staff to find a reasonable path forward that will address the very real problems posed by the pandemic while also allowing people in the community to remain employed and enabling retailers to stay open to serve the area.

El Paso’s retail businesses provide necessary goods for families throughout the community, and offer a valuable source of income for many residents. These businesses have done everything necessary to safely reopen, and they should not be subject to another broad shutdown. Instead, policymakers should focus their efforts on more targeted responses that address what health officials have already identified as the causes of new outbreaks, and allow the businesses that are operating safely to continue doing so.

Click Here for full article from the El Paso Times

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