EL PASO, Texas (KXAN) — A group of registered nurses in El Paso spoke Friday morning against an appeals court temporarily blocking the county judge’s stay-at-home order, saying that decision endangers their community dealing with a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

National Nurses United, a self-described progressive union, hosted virtual news conference featuring three registered nurses working in El Paso. They criticized the Texas Eighth Court of Appeals for ruling Thursday that El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego’s shutdown of nonessential businesses that was scheduled to last until Dec. 1 should be put on hold for now.

Idali Cooper, who’s been a registered nurse for more than 20 years, expressed disappointment, saying the court’s decision coupled with top state leaders supporting it is “irresponsible and insensitive” to the needs of the community and those working on the frontlines against the disease.

“It is obvious to us they have no clue what we are going through in the hospitals,” Cooper said. “I welcome them to come and work with us and go through what we go through every single day when we have to take care of covid-positive patients, and we see that they can’t breathe.”

Juan Anchondo, a registered nurse of 17 years, went further in his criticisms of state leaders and judges.

“This situation is unsustainable,” Anchondo said during the news conference. “It’s going to get worse if we continue to set new records every day in infections, hospitalizations and deaths here in El Paso County — with our governor, our attorney general and the court as accomplices to this tragedy.”

Ariana Lucio said Friday she is “disappointed and concerned” about the court’s decision to strike down the shutdown order. She has worked for eight years as a registered nurse at Del Sol Medical Center in El Paso, and she called the last month “overwhelming” both physically and emotionally from the strain that COVID-19 has caused for local hospitals and their workers.

The court’s decision comes as the City of El Paso reported 16 more deaths from COVID-19 as well as 1,488 new cases Friday. The city’s data dashboard also showed that 1,132 people are currently hospitalized fighting the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, while 317 patients are now in intensive care in El Paso.

The nurses’ union stated in a news release that it filed an amicus brief earlier this week to support the county judge’s stay-at-home order, claiming that more than 50 RNs in El Paso County have been infected with COVID-19 this year. The union wrote in it that “our 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.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton posted on Twitter Thursday evening that he agreed with the appeals court’s decision. “It is important that we do not shut down the economy ever again, & this decision allows small businesses to continue to operate & pay employees,” Paxton wrote in the tweet.

Judge Samaniego wrote in a statement Thursday that he is “extremely disappointed” by the ruling.

“Our family members, our friends, and our neighbors are dying, and our hospitals, funeral homes, and morgues are at capacity,” Samaniego wrote. “El Paso has had 40,000 new cases in the last 30 days, and 20,000 new cases since the Halloween weekend. This is 10,000 new positive COVID-19 cases per week.”

Despite the court’s decision, the county judge said in his statement that the following portions of his order will remain in effect:

  • 50% occupancy for non-essential businesses, with limited exceptions.
  • All restaurants shall stop all dine-in services by 9 p.m. and only offer takeout and drive-through operations after that time.
  • Gatherings are limited to no more than 10 people.
  • Bars will stay closed.
  • Masks remain mandatory in public except under very limited situations.

“Tomorrow, after a final ruling by the 8th Court of Appeals, I will issue a final order,” Samaniego said. “For tonight, I strongly urge citizens to stay home, wear masks and socially distance themselves from others. Additionally, I will be exploring legal permissible options to stop the spread of the virus.”