EL PASO, Texas – In the five months since the pandemic, the Covid-19 El Paso compliance teams have claimed they have faced some obstacles to implementing the guidelines set by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
Abbott issued his first coronavirus guidelines in March, and since then local governments have established their own task forces for compliance efforts. In El Paso, officials released 94 citations and made more than 15,000 code-breaking visits since the pandemic began.
“We started getting calls on the first weekend when the governor issued his first order on March 15. So the calls have been coming ever since -April, May, June and July. Almost 5 months of calls, so thousands and thousands of calls, “said Ellen Smyth, the city manager in charge of managing the El Paso task force.
While his compliance team is responsible for enforcing the rules, they often run to the dead ends. Many times business owners will close their business doors as they violate these guidelines, or they will refuse to sign infringement notices issued. While city compliance officers may not issue excerpts, they may engage the police department.
“If they don̵7;t open the door we walk away, because we’re not going to banging on the door or forcing someone to open. If they don’t open the first time they knock, they won’t go open, so turn-over we just have that in PD and it becomes more of a priority call, “Smyth said.
One violation that is often seen is the lack of implementation of face masks in many businesses. City officials say employees often prefer not to confront an uncertain customer wearing a mask and enter into a possible confrontation.
“Businesses where customers are clearly walking around without a mask and the employee is like ‘I’m not going up with him, I’m not going to approach him.’ So then, we need to talk to the manager and say that you need to empower your employees and give them the tools they need to approach the customer, “Smyth explained.
Many of these violations continue to occur daily and Smyth’s team faces a new challenge. Bars across the Borderland are now obtaining a food license to reopen their doors and resume their operations. While there is no issue with today-restaurants serving food, the problem is what happens once the kitchen closes; some of these establishments go back to a bar scene, creating a problem for the work force.
“We really did not expect that to happen. We are still working with the city attorney and, of course, their license is state-controlled so there is some effect. I just do not know what authority (the Texas Alcoholic Bevarage Commission) is because it is not it comes from them, it comes from the governor, ”said Smyth.
These challenges are frustrating for the task force, however residents are still encouraged to dial 311 city lines if they notice violations are occurring. City officials are now reviewing their options and saying they will choose to be stricter in their implementation.
“They can issue a citation in place instead of giving you a warning. It’s kind of like issuing a mention for speed; they can issue a warning or a ticket in place. And so now you don’t they have given any more warnings, they will just give you a ticket, “Smyth said.