RV parks and resorts in the Rio Grande Valley, which has become a COVID-19 hot spot over the last month, are hoping for the return of winter visitors. (Henry Miller | hmiller@themonitor.com)

Hidalgo County’s shelter at home order was lifted to implement new protections for the arrival of Winter Texans, county Judge and Emergency Management Director Richard F. Cortez announced in a news release Saturday. 

The new order with new protections will go into effect on Monday and will run through 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 27. 

“Although our numbers are trending downward, COVID-19 continues to impact our community and remains a dangerous threat,” Cortez said in the release. “After much consideration, I have decided to lift the Shelter at Home mandate because I recognize the sacrifices made by those who have abided by this order. I also recognize that this restriction has caused some hardship with families.”

In addition to the order, the county judge is continuing the curfew to keep people, “particularly younger people,” the release stated, off the streets during overnight hours. 

From 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., the county will enforce a curfew for individuals 18 or older. Exceptions are only for medical emergencies, essential services, or any other purpose permitted under the order.

The release states travel during the curfew should be limited to obtaining or performing essential covered services and limited to two individuals per vehicle. Only those in government functions or essential health care are allowed four individuals per vehicle. 

“This emergency order also takes into account a unique phenomenon for South Texas that many other parts of the state don’t necessarily contend with: the annual arrival of Winter Texans,” Cortez said in the release. 

Because the annual visitors are retirees and near those vulnerable to COVID-19, Cortez included protections in regard to popular gathering spots and event organizers for Winter Texans.

Excluding church ceremonies, event organizers hosting events indoors, such as weddings, and outdoor areas and venues are limited to 50% of the total listed occupancy of the building in addition to following standard health protocols. Individuals are still ordered to wear a face covering over the nose and mouth.

Hair and nail salons, gyms, bowling alleys, bingo and bingo halls are continuing standard health protocols: maintaining at least 6 feet of physical distancing, sanitizing surfaces and equipment between uses and providing hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, soap and water. 

Operating at 50% capacity, movie theaters are ordered to maintain at least two seats (or 6 feet of separation) between groups in any row — excluding individuals from the same household or those outside the same household attending together. 

The order continues to enforce face coverings inside commercial or public spaces, or when in an outdoor space.

Individuals over the age of 65 are strongly encouraged by the county to stay at home when possible and to maintain physical distance from any household member who has been out of the residence in the last 14 days. 

Hidalgo County prohibited any outdoor gathering of 10 or more people, unless the mayor of the city or Cortez approved the gathering.

Continuing at 50% capacity, commercial services are highly encouraged and recommended by the county to provide their services by curbside, drive-thru or take-out. 

The order allows delivery and take-out for bars and similar establishments who receive more than 51% of their gross receipts from the sale of alcohol beverages. 

In addition, bar areas in restaurants must not permit customers to loiter at the bar or in common areas and only serve individuals seated at the “bar” as an attempt to discourage activities that enable close physical contact in the bar areas. 

The order cites flea markets and farmer markets as commercial covered entities that must implement health and safety practices that require employees and customers to follow additional hygienic measures. 

Lastly, the order said employees are not allowed to return to work if in close contact with someone positive with the virus until the end of a 14-day self-isolation period. 

Employers should follow minimum standard health protocols relevant to the operation of the business, the release states, train all employees on appropriate cleaning and disinfection, hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette and conduct temperature checks or health screenings of employees. 

A first-time violation of face coverings will result in a verbal or written warning, which the second violation punishable by a fine up to $250.

In accordance with Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order GA-29, each subsequent violation shall be punishable by a fine not to exceed $250 per violation.


Read Hidalgo County’s new order here: Hidalgo County Emergency Order 20-014