EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — For now, in-person hearings and trials will not take place at the El Paso County Courthouse.

County officials say conditions relating to the pandemic and what is required by the state do not meet the thresholds to allow for the proceedings.

The public health authority for areas throughout the state must determine if it is OK to resume hearings, according to state guidelines.

“In discussions with Dr. (Hector) Ocaranza, he determined that the conditions in El Paso are not conducive to holding in-person hearings at this time,” said Michael Cuccaro, executive director of the county’s Council of Judges. “Judge Linda Chew and I have discussed the new requirements with the justices of the peace, El Paso municipal courts, and, for now, we are not holding in-person hearings, except for a few essential matters that cannot be heard remotely.”

State guidelines to resume in-person hearings changed throughout the past year, according to Cuccaro.

He said the county had met thresholds first set by the state in June, but they began to change as the number of cases started to elevate. Just before the new year, the state required public health authorities to sign off on in-person hearings, he said.

The pandemic had the most effect on probate cases, Cuccaro said.

“The probate courts lost many of their wards to COVID, especially those in nursing homes or mental healthcare facilities, but they also gained many more wards,” he said. “We have also seen there is an increase in temporary guardianships.”

Cuccaro said videoconferences have helped, but are not as effective as in-person interaction and evaluations. It’s harder to interact with patients who are experiencing mental health challenges, he added.

County data for 2019 and 2020 show a decreasing trend for mental health care cases, but Cuccaro said it does not reflect what is happening because facilities closed during the pandemic.

Mental health patients began being sent to emergency rooms, he added.

“By the time patients were cleared through an emergency room for COVID, they were often better because they had received their medications,” Cuccaro said. “Overall, Judge Chew thinks filings have increased steadily since the beginning of the pandemic and unfortunately, they are seeing many more deaths within age groups they don’t normally see.”