ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
It's been an especially bad week in Texas. The state passed the grim coronavirus milestone of a million confirmed cases. And the situation is particularly bad in El Paso. Hospitals there are overwhelmed. They've brought in mobile morgues to handle the high number of deaths. To try to control the outbreak, El Paso County ordered all nonessential businesses to shut down, but a court has put that plan on hold. Angela Kocherga of member station KTEP joins us from El Paso. Hi there.
ANGELA KOCHERGA, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: What's the story behind this back-and-forth about whether businesses must close?
KOCHERGA: Well, all you have to do is look at the numbers. It's really bad here in Texas in general. But El Paso in particular, is being called the current epicenter of Texas' soaring coronavirus problems. So the top elected official here decided that requiring all nonessential businesses to close would be the safest plan of action to slow the spread. He also put in place an overnight curfew. But all of these things were challenged by some local restaurant owners.
And then the Texas attorney general joined in, basically arguing that only the governor has the power to order a shutdown. One judge agreed with the shutdown, and then an appeals court yesterday said that was wrong and put that, the shutdown and the curfew, on hold.
SHAPIRO: Now, Texas has the most cases of any state in the U.S. right now, as you mentioned. How does the uniqueness of El Paso as a city contribute to the situation that we're seeing today?
KOCHERGA: Well, this is really a place where there is politics in play. The governor is a Republican, and El Paso is largely Democratic. And there's a lot of pressure from businesses, large and small, to stay open. The mayor here in El Paso, also a Republican, said he's very concerned about their livelihoods and that, if they shut down, they won't be able to reopen at all. And El Paso's county judge, the top official here, is a Democrat. And of course, we've also got Juarez just across the Mexican border. And so there has been this with the county judge and the mayor not seeing eye to eye on these restrictions.
Now, the governor says he's in charge of emergency orders, and it's really not up to local officials to have a say at all, which is why there are literally dozens of cities and counties across Texas paying attention to this legal fight.
SHAPIRO: And this burden is falling on hospitals in El Paso. I understand a group of local nurses spoke out today about the conditions that they're dealing with. What did they say?
KOCHERGA: Well, they painted a really bleak picture. There's a shortage of medical staff but also not enough PPE, personal protective equipment, like masks. They also talked about being on the verge of rationing care. And they're just physically and emotionally drained just from the sheer human tragedy of it all. Idali Cooper usually works in a critical care pediatric unit, but she's now one of the nurses on COVID duty. And she says she's frustrated some elected officials, like the governor and judges, are stopping El Paso from putting the shutdown and curfew into place.
IDALI COOPER: 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; they're in desperation.
SHAPIRO: And, of course, with the holidays coming up, I'm sure officials are even more concerned that things might get worse.
KOCHERGA: They're very worried, Ari. This is a place where people have large family gatherings, large extended families and multigenerational gatherings. So there's a real concern on the part of health officials that people who don't live in the same household will be getting together, and they know what that will lead to - another spike in coronavirus cases and even more deaths.
SHAPIRO: That's Angela Kocherga of member station KTEP in El Paso, Texas. Thank you for your reporting.
KOCHERGA: Thank you, Ari.
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