As a response to the surge of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the Rio Grande Valley, Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez enacted a shelter-at-home order Monday, mandating residents to remain at home, obey curfews and wear facial coverings in public.
Under the order, residents are only allowed to leave their homes for necessary reasons, or to obtain necessary resources, such as medication or doctor visits. Anyone under 17 is mandated to be accompanied by a parent or guardian while out of the house for these activities.
A curfew for residents older than 18 is set from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.
The order goes into effect Wednesday and expires Aug. 5.
“Our rise in numbers and fatalities says that we need to take action now and do what’s in the best interest of our community,” Cortez said in a news release. “This action will help us do the right thing to save and protect each other from this deadly disease by sheltering at home.”
John Wittman, spokesman for Gov. Greg Abbott, explained that without the governor’s power the order can only be taken as a recommendation.
“This order has no enforcement mechanism, which makes it simply a recommendation for those to stay home if they can, which Governor Abbott supports,” Wittman said in a text message Monday. “However, this order does not force businesses to shut down in the Rio Grande Valley. Enforcing the existing protocols, including wearing face coverings, is proven to slow the spread of COVID-19. It is essential that local authorities enforce the existing orders.”
Following the order, an individual’s second violation, and each one after, can not exceed a fine of $250.
Travel should also be limited to no more than two people per vehicle for essential trips, according to the order.
Four people per vehicle is the limit for essential healthcare operations, government functions, essential commercial services, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cyber Security and Infrastructure Agency.
Under the order, residents are only allowed to leave their residence to make visits to educational institutions to pick up materials, for work, or if required by law enforcement. Travel is also permitted for non-residents to return to their homes outside of the county.
Individuals are also allowed to leave their homes for outdoor activities, such as visiting parks. Though, in all public spaces, everyone must maintain a distance of 6 feet from others.
Additionally, the order states that it is “highly encouraged and recommended” that commercial businesses in the county stop all in-person services and switch to curbside, drive-through or take-out services.
Following Abbott’s order which disallows outdoor gatherings of more than 10 people, unless permitted by Cortez or the city mayor, the outdoor venues can not operate at more than half capacity. This is with regard to sporting events, swimming pools, water parks, zoos and amusement parks.
The county’s new order is the second requiring residents to stay at home. The first came during the onset of the county’s first virus cases in March, with local orders quickly growing to include curfews and business closures with exceptions for essential workers — this before Abbott began reopening the state in phases between May and June.
Read the new order in its entirety here.
News of the order came Monday evening, just moments before the county also confirmed 34 more deaths due to COVID-19 complications, and an additional 524 virus cases.
The youngest among the individuals who died include an Alton man in his 30s, according to a county news release.
“I offer the deepest sympathies as I grieve with the friends and families who said goodbye to their loved ones today,” Cortez said in a news release confirming the case activity Monday. “If we collectively stand against this virus by taking the proper precautions, we can help save our neighbors from this horrible disease. Please continue to Shelter-At-Home, wear facial coverings, and limit mass gatherings.”
Monday’s new cases increased the county’s total to 12,787.
There were also 108 individuals released from isolation Monday, leaving 7,203 active cases in the county.
Additionally, according to the release, there are currently 1,024 individuals fighting COVID-19 currently being cared for in local hospitals, of which 228 are in intensive care units.
So far, 76,297 COVID-19 tests have been administered in the county.
Cameron County also reported 15 additional deaths due to the disease on Monday along with 322 new cases, according to a county news release. Among the new cases, 182 reside in Brownsville.
The death toll there is now 111 with 6,213 total cases.
According to the release, 128 individuals recovered Monday, leaving 3,254 active cases there.
Starr County also confirmed 21 new cases of the disease, reflecting activity on Sunday, raising the total there to 1,428.
Of the total cases, 951 remain active. There were no reports of new deaths due to the virus, leaving the number of fatalities there at five and 32 deaths still pending state confirmation.
Furthermore, Willacy County reported one new case of the coronavirus, that of a woman in her 50s. The total number of cases seen there is now 474.
Staff writer Naxiely Lopez-Puente contributed to this report.