EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — An indoor mask mandate ordered by Health Authority Dr. Hector Ocaranza is in effect in El Paso County. The mandate will be helpful in keeping COVID-19 cases in the Borderland down, he said.
“Locally we saw its effectiveness with the mask mandate in July 2020, when Governor (Greg) Abbott issued a mask mandate and we saw declining cases during our second wave,” Ocaranza said.
The city of El Paso was granted a temporary restraining order against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order banning mask mandates across the state.
Karla Nieman, the city’s attorney, says the restraining order allows Ocaranza’s indoor mask mandate to continue. On Wednesday afternoon, Nieman described what’s next.
“The next step would be that on Aug. 31, Judge Morales has set the case for a preliminary injunction hearing in which our office and the Governor’s office will be given an opportunity to present our cases,” Nieman said. “And, we anticipate that we would ask the court to continue to extend the temporary restraining order and initiate a temporary injunction to allow us to fully prosecute and litigate the issue as to the Governor’s authority at the local level.”
Nieman said individuals who violate the mask order are subject to a fine of up to $500 misdemeanor and a citation. It will be local law enforcement issuing citations, she added.
“We have limited resources. Obviously, our officers have priority in terms of the calls they have to make in responding to priority calls where people’s lives are at risk, but it’s a matter of the police department making time based on the limited resources making the responses necessary,” Nieman said.
Earlier Wednesday, the University Texas El Paso sent KTSM 9 News a statement saying that while masks and vaccinations are encouraged, they will not be required on campuses.
“Like other state government agencies, University of Texas institutions are required to comply with the Governor’s order,” a portion of the statement from UTEP said.
Nieman said the city will not be able to enforce the wearing of masks at UTEP.
“Any state institution is subject to the orders of the governor. We don’t have the authority to demand that UTEP comply with Dr. Ocaranza’s order,” she said.
UTEP student Keana Rodriguez said she will wear a mask and has seen most students doing the same.
“I’ve seen the majority of people wearing masks,” said Rodriguez.
Most El Paso school districts have said they are requiring masks.
“Dr. Ocaranza is a state official and he has authority under the health and safety code to institute health measures at the local level and that means countywide. In our interpretation of the law, Dr. Ocaranza has that authority and local school districts should be complying with his order,” said Nieman.
KTSM reached out to the Ysleta Independent School District about whether or not they would be requiring students to wear masks.
“The Ysleta Board of Trustees will continue to seek legal advice regarding its path forward considering these various orders. District administration has made all district employees and families aware of the recently issued mask mandate by the City-County Local Health Authority,” a statement from YISD said, in part.
El Pasoan David Aguilera graduated from a YISD school in June 2021 and said his sister is still a student.
“I feel that the city enforces it, so I feel that Ysleta should start enforcing it as well,” Aguilera said.
KTSM asked the city attorney specifically what enforcement would be taken against the district if the mask order is not enforced.
“I don’t believe that our law enforcement officials would step onto YISD property,” Nieman said.
City Representative Cassandra Hernandez posted on Facebook about her frustration with YISD.
“I will be going to the Board meeting next Wednesday to hold our school board trustees accountable to enforce our public health authority orders,” the post by Hernandez on Facebook said.