Some leaders concerned virus cases could rise

Customers wait in line at the Dollar Tree on West Lincoln Avenue while practicing social distancing and also wearing face masks.

HARLINGEN — Some local leaders are concerned the expiration of Gov. Greg Abbott’s stay-home order could lead to a spike in Cameron County’s coronavirus cases.

Meanwhile, some public health officials oppose Abbott’s decision to allow his shelter-in-place order to expire today at 11:50 p.m.

Nearly a month ago, Abbott issued the order, calling on Texans to stay home barring justifiable reasons.

The order’s expiration helps pave the way for Abbott’s first phase of a plan to reopen the state’s businesses, which shut down about a month ago to comply with federal guidelines and state and local orders limiting gathering sizes to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

In Harlingen, Mayor Chris Boswell stood behind Abbott’s decision to allow the order to expire.

“ The governor’s order is balanced between keeping an eye on the health trends and following the advice of doctors and scientists,” he said. “I think it’s a very measured response.”

Boswell said Abbott’s decision allowing the order to expire makes way for the plan to begin opening some businesses such as restaurants at 25-percent dining capacity.

“ It’s strategic in reopening by taking small steps,” he said, referring to the plan to lift the economic shutdown that’s led to more than 2 million unemployment claims. “You have to start somewhere.”

In Cameron County, where health officials had confirmed 387 cases as of Wednesday night, the number of new cases appears to be dropping.

“ It appears we’ve had some downward numbers as has the state,” Boswell said. “If we see a spike, we might have to pull back and start again. That’s what the White House guidelines call for.”f

Raymondville

In Raymondville, Mayor Gilbert Gonzales is concerned the shelter-in-place order’s expiration could lead to the virus’ spread.

“ I’m not comfortable with it. I think it’s a little too soon,” he said. “They know what they’re doing, according to the governor. If there’s an outbreak, it’s not our doing.”

As a result of Abbott’s decision, County Judge Aurelio Guerra has canceled his May 4 extension of the local shelter-in-place order, Gonzales said.

Guerra did not respond to a message requesting comment on his decision to extend the order through May 4.

“ The governor’s order supersedes everybody,” Gonzales said.

San Benito

In San Benito, where interim Police Chief Fred Bell’s officers issued 127 citations and 193 warnings to the order’s violators from March 21 to Wednesday, officials are following Abbott’s lead. Violators face as much as a $1,000 fine and up to 180 days in jail.

“ The city has been and continues to follow the recommendations of Cameron County, state of Texas and federal agencies and leaders,” City Manager Manuel De La Rosa stated.

Port Isabel

In Port Isabel, officials are concerned many residents’ work in the travel industry could expose them to the virus, City Manager Jared Hockema stated.

Now, he stated, it’s up to residents to take precautions.

“ The governor’s actions don’t mean the threat has abated, but rather that a larger share of the burden of ensuring that people remain safe has shifted from our local governments to the citizens themselves,” he stated. “The threat of infection is still present.”

Hockema noted many residents work in the travel industry, staffing hotels on South Padre Island.

“ We’re particularly concerned because so many of our residents work in the travel industry and come into frequent contact with the public,” he stated. “Many of our residents live in multi-generational or extended family households, which also magnifies the risk.”

City officials are planning to issue their regulations aimed at preventing the virus’ spread.

“ For our part, the city will continue doing everything it can to promote safety,” Hockema stated. “We’ll be issuing regulations within the guidelines established by the governor, we’ve stepped up disinfection practices in public facilities and we’re working with our business community to help them function while keeping visitors and employees safe.”

It’s up to residents to take precautions, he stated.

“ We want our residents and visitors to remain safe and urge everyone to refrain from non-essential activities and to use caution when performing essential activities,” he stated, adding officials “highly encourage” residents wear facial coverings in public.

Public health’s side

In Brownsville, Esmeralda Guajardo, Cameron County’s health administrator, warned the shelter-in-place order’s expiration amid limited testing access could lead to a spike in virus cases.

“ I understand for some this is causing a lot of anxiety but it’s the only way we can contain it and save lives,” she said, referring to the shelter-in-place order, adding “this is public health speaking.”

“ I’m concerned of what this is going to do to the number of cases in Cameron County,” she said. “Without testing availability and quick results combined with a lot of movement, it’s going to be very difficult for us to control it.”

In Raymondville, Dr. Mario Sanchez, Willacy County’s medical director, warned the order’s expiration along with businesses’ reopening could lead to more cases in this sparsely populated rural county of 22,000 where health officials have confirmed 13 COVID-19 cases.

“ I feel we’re moving a little bit too fast — probably another two weeks,” Sanchez said.

“ Down here, it hasn’t hit us bad. I’m hoping that it’s as bad as it’s going to get,” he said, referring to the number of county cases.

“ It creates a lot of anxiety for people to be inside all the time. I understand people want to get back to working,” he said. “But some of these businesses are going to be risking their health. If we start seeing a rise (in cases), I think they’ll get more strict.”

fdelvalle@valleystar.com