Hidalgo County mulling reopening bars after state go-ahead; 251 new cases of COVID-19, 24 more deaths in RGV

Although Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order Wednesday opening bars and similar establishments at up to 50% capacity at the discretion of county officials on Oct. 14, it’s not yet clear whether the booze will start flowing in Hidalgo County bars next week.

A news release from the governor’s office says county judges in regions with low COVID-19 hospitalizations will be able to opt into opening bars at half capacity next Wednesday provided they assist in enforcing health protocols.

The release also says that all counties where COVID-19 hospitalizations are less than 15% of hospital capacity can open all businesses other than bars at 75% capacity.

“Even as more businesses have opened and students return to school, Texans have shown we can contain the spread of COVID-19,” Abbott wrote in the release. “Thanks to Texans following the best health practices, our state is prepared for additional openings, including bars. Working with industry leaders and our team of medical experts, the State of Texas has now developed strategies to safely open bars under certain health protocols. To ensure bars open safely, these openings will be done in conjunction with county officials.”

The state announced just yesterday that Hidalgo County is no longer considered a high hospitalization area, but the pandemic is continuing to take the lives of Rio Grande Valley residents daily.

Local authorities reported 24 additional coronavirus-related deaths Wednesday, 21 in Hidalgo County and three in Cameron County. They reported 251 new cases of COVID-19 in the Valley — 205 in Hidalgo County, 43 in Cameron and just three in Starr County.

Although the numbers are certainly more comforting than the soaring case and death reports released during the pandemic’s height over the summer, they’re not good enough to convince Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez to take Abbott up on his offer to reopen bars out of hand.

“Just yesterday we were notified by the state that we are no longer considered a high hospitalization area,” Cortez wrote in a release. “I intend to talk to local health experts, including our health authority, director of our health department and mayors before deciding on the next steps for Hidalgo County. My desire is to have a decision regarding local bars before October 14, the day the governor is allowing bars to reopen.”