Officials urge vigilance as Hidalgo Co. virus cases decline

County judge: ‘We’re worried that people will not take the precautions that they need to take…’

Hidalgo County has seen its number of COVID-19 cases decrease in recent days, but while this is good news it has local officials worried that a false sense of security may result in residents holding large family gatherings during Labor Day weekend.

But local and state health officials have previously pointed to family gatherings being a significant source of infections throughout the summer.

Expressing concern Monday, county judge Richard F. Cortez urged the public to continue the efforts to mitigate the spread of the disease.

“We are very happy that the number of people in the hospital has been declining, and that the number of people in ICU have been declining,” Cortez said. “Of course that’s good news, but with Labor Day coming up and schools in some way getting back, kids are going to want to congregate and party and stuff like that. We’re worried that people will not take the precautions that they need to take because we know how fast this disease can be transmitted when you’re in large groups.”

The county reported 130 additional cases of COVID-19 and nine additional COVID-19 related deaths on Monday.

There are currently 322 people in hospitals with the coronavirus, and 128 of those people are being treated in intensive care units, Hidalgo County further reported.

While the numbers have shown a slight trend of decreased activity, Cortez pointed to ongoing difficulty enforcing Gov. Greg Abbott’s order regarding bars.

“The problem that we have is that we have 22 municipalities in the county, and we have to rely on the 22 municipalities to enforce the order of the governor and my order,” Cortez said. “They define a bar as, if 51% or more of your sales are liquor or spirits, then you’re a bar. If you’re a restaurant that has food and a bar, and your food is more than 51%, then the governor says that you can’t loiter at the bar. You can have the bar there, but you can’t go into the bar.

“Well how many of those do we have throughout the 22 municipalities for them to go enforce? That’s been our biggest obstacle during this process.”

According to the Associated Press, there were at least 2,374 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed in the state Monday — numbers which do not include Hidalgo and Cameron counties’ most recent data.

The new cases raised the overall number of COVID-19 cases in Texas to near 613,000, while the tabulated death toll rose to 12,536, according to the Associated Press.

“I think all of us are tired of COVID-19. All of us want to go back to where we were before, but hoping and wishing that it happens isn’t going to get us there,” Cortez said. “We have to fight this thing, and we have to fight it by learning how to deal in this toxic environment; for businesses to learn how to operate; for individuals to learn to be consumers; for individuals to learn how to gather; for them to know that there are certain things now that we can’t do that we used to do because this virus is very contagious.”

Cortez said that while extreme caution needs to be observed during the pandemic, it should not deter residents from finding ways to enjoy themselves. He continued to stress that people wear masks, avoid going out unless absolutely necessary, and to practice social distancing.

“Under this rule you can go play golf, you can go fishing, you can play tennis, you can do a lot of things,” Cortez said. “There’s still a lot of things that you can do, but you have to take those precautions. When people want to gather in large gatherings, it’s very difficult to maintain social distances. It’s very difficult to control a large crowd. That’s why I encourage everybody — if you can avoid doing that, do it. It doesn’t mean that you can’t be with people, that you can’t go fishing or you can’t go hunting. Whitewing season is coming, it doesn’t mean that you can’t go do that. Just take your precautions.”

Hidalgo County’s extended shelter-at-home order expires Sept. 13, and requires that children under 17 be accompanied by an adult while leaving the house for necessary reasons, such as obtaining food or medicine, or visiting the doctor; as well as facial coverings being mandatory.

Residents can engage in outdoor activities so long as they remain 6 feet from others, and are asked to limit travel to essential purposes, such as caring for elders, people with disabilities and children, commuting to and from work and obtaining essential items. Also, only two people should be in a vehicle at a time while traveling, according to the order.

Subsequent violations can result in a fine of as much as $250, which is in line with Gov. Greg Abbott’s orders.

ELSEWHERE IN THE VALLEY

Cameron County confirmed an additional 20 virus-related deaths on Monday, raising the total there to 596.

Of the new deaths, 15 were residents of Brownsville and five were from Harlingen.

The county also confirmed 81 new cases of the coronavirus, raising that total to 21,040.

Additionally, there were 408 people who recovered for the coronavirus, bringing the total number of recovered individuals to 15,018.

In Willacy County, 30 additional COVID-19 cases were confirmed Monday, which raises the total there to 864.

The new cases include a boy under the age of 5, a girl under the age of 10, a boy in his teens, two women and five men in their 20s, a woman and five men in their 30s, two women and three men in their 40s, two women and three men in their 50s, two women in their 60s, a woman in her 70s and a woman in her 80s.