Hidalgo Co. eyes stricter emergency orders

As health officials on Monday reported the second death from COVID-19 in the Rio Grande Valley, confirmed positive cases in Hidalgo County climbed above the triple-digit mark.

In a Monday night release, officials reported 14 new cases here bringing Hidalgo County’s total to 113, including 14 who are hospitalized. Of those 14, four are in intensive care units.

“We are seeing the number of cases double every four days or so,” County Judge Richard F. Cortez said in a news release. “This is in line with what we have expected and I can’t emphasize enough that the safest place for everyone is in their homes.”

Of the positive cases, county officials report that 61 are women, while 51 are men.

There are now four Hidalgo County cities in double digits for positive confirmations, including McAllen with 26, Pharr with 21, Mission with 12 and Mercedes with 10.

As for Hidalgo County, it reported testing 984 people as of Tuesday night. Of those tests, 781 returned negative results. Ninety are still pending.

Meanwhile, Cameron County reported 14 new cases Monday night, bringing the total there to 101, Starr County has seven cases with no new cases reported Monday and Willacy County last reported five cases on Friday, bringing the total confirmed positives in the four-county region to 226.

Willacy County, however, did say in an announcement on Monday that it is holding a Tuesday morning press conference regarding the status of COVID-19 in the county and will give an update on executive orders there.

Cameron County officials on Monday reported the death of an 81-year-old resident of Veranda Healthcare & Rehabilitation, a Harlingen nursing home, while on Saturday, officials in Willacy County said a man in his 60s died.

In Cameron County, five of the new cases are connected to Windsor Atrium, a nursing home in Harlingen. Three of those who tested positive are residents, while the other two people are employees.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection also began releasing its data concerning employees who have tested positive for COVID-19. As of Sunday, CBP said two employees in Rio Grande City and one in Brownsville tested positive.

Starr County officials clarified that the employees based in Rio Grande City are Border Patrol agents who are stationed in Alto Bonito, a census-designated area near Rio Grande City. Those officials said they did not know the agents’ place of residence.

As health care workers continue to identify people who have fallen ill with the virus, local governments across the region have sought to mitigate COVID-19’s spread through the use of checkpoints to enforce the county’s emergency order and mandates requiring residents to wear face coverings when out in public.

On Tuesday morning, the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court is expected to take action to make several of these initiatives uniform across the county.

Residents should expect stricter measures to be taken up during Commissioner’s Court Tuesday morning,Hidalgo County Spokesman Carlos Sanchez said during a Monday afternoon Facebook Live.

Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez also said last Friday that residents should expect the emergency order, which is set to expire April 10, to be extended. On Monday afternoon, Cameron County extended its emergency order until April 21.

The orders are similar in both counties and include shelter-in-place orders that require residents to stay inside their homes if they are not deemed “essential” employees or if they are not traveling for medical care, to pick up medications or to purchase groceries or supplies that are essential for maintaining a household.

Sanchez reiterated Cortez’s comment last Friday that residents should anticipate a face-covering mandate to be approved by commissioners at aTuesday morning meeting.

Several cities, including Alton, Weslaco, Palmview, Esla, Edinburg and Mission, already require residents to wear a face covering, like a scar or a bandana, when going out into public for essential business. Starr County has already implemented a mandate, as has Harlingen.

Cameron County and McAllen have recommended residents wear face coverings, while Brownsville is scheduled to take up the issue on Tuesday.

Officials are asking residents to refrain from buying medical-grade masks.

Sanchez also said officials are looking at limiting the number of people allowed in a vehicle to two people, as well as creating a county-wide work safety plan to make sure that businesses that are still open are in compliance with the emergency order.


Staff writer Berenice Garcia contributed to this report.