New county order includes bar closures

A bartender waits for customers at Buck Wild on West Sixth Street in downtown Austin as bars reopened on May 22. Photo credit: Jordan Vonderhaar for the Texas Tribune

BROWNSVILLE — A state order has led Cameron County Judge Eddie Trevino Jr. to order the county’s restaurants to cut their customer capacity while shutting down bars as a result of climbing COVID-19 hospitalization rates.

State health department Commissioner Dr. John Hellerstedt sent a letter this week to Region Trauma Service Area V, which includes Cameron, Hidalgo, Willacy and Starr counties. As a result, restaurant customer capacity rates are cut to 50 percent while bars are to close after COVID-19 hospitalization rates jumped over 15 percent.

On Friday, Trevino ordered restaurants to cut capacity by 3 p.m. yesterday while mandating “all bars and similar establishments must remain closed until such time that (Region Trauma Service Area V) has seven consecutive days in which the number of COVID-19 hospitalized patients as a percentage total is 15 percent or less.”

The order is to remain in effect from 3 p.m. Friday continuing until 12:01 p.m. Feb. 5.

The order sets fines of up to $500 while second offenders face penalties of as much as $1,000.

“Right now hospitals are at capacity so people are delayed in getting emergency care they need,” Josh Ramirez, Harlingen’s public health director, said.

At a Thursday press conference, Manny Vela, Valley Baptist Health System’s chief executive officer, said COVID-19 daily hospitalizations have climbed from about 25 to 100 in the last 45 to 60 days as a result of holiday gatherings from Halloween to Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Now, officials expect new cases to jump as a result of New Year’s Eve gatherings.

Since October, the county’s number of new COVID-19 cases has soared.

On Oct. 30, health officials reported 59 new cases, bringing the county’s total case count to 24,280, Treviño’s office stated.

On Wednesday, officials reported 303 new cases, with the total case count climbing to 30,768.

On Friday, Cameron County Public Health reported an additional 223 COVID-19 cases, bringing the county’s total number of cases to 31,192.

fdelvalle@valleystar.com