Judge urges safety measures despite Abbott’s order

After Gov. Greg Abbott gave certain businesses the green light to re-open at a limited capacity, Starr County Judge Eloy Vera urged local businesses and the public to continue abiding by county guidelines they had issued to prevent the spread of COVID-19 despite the inability of local governments to enforce them.

During a virtual meeting held Wednesday, Vera said he would be issuing a letter to businesses in the county requesting that they continue to take measures addressing the COVID-19 threat including requiring customers to wear face coverings.

The executive order signed by Abbott on April 27, allows retail stores, dine-in restaurants theaters, and shopping malls to open at 25% capacity.

While the order encouraged individuals to wear face coverings, or masks, it stated that neither criminal nor civil penalties could be imposed for not doing so.

It also rescinded stay-at-home orders that had been enacted by various counties and cities throughout the state.

“ They’ve worked,” Vera said of those orders. “There’s no argument — they’ve worked. But unfortunately, the governor feels he needs to open up for economic reasons — and I agree, at some point we do need to think about our economics. I just feel that right now, we could have waited another two weeks, three weeks, without too much of an additional burden and we could have been much safer.”

Vera said he’s received calls from some local business owners who assured they would not be opening up as allowed by the recent order but instead continue operating by curbside or to-go service only.

He hoped others would follow suit and take the safety of their employees and their customers into consideration but reiterated it was up to the business owners.

“ I don’t want to be used, or Starr County to be used, as a guinea pig to see what’s going to happen,” Vera said. “We’ve worked really hard, the mayors, the PDs, the judges, everyone has worked so hard — the medical community — to keep our numbers down and just to open it up all of a sudden and destroy all the work that we’ve done, I don’t feel that is right.”

He added that the county would be enforcing the use of face masks in their buildings and asked the general public to continue to stay at home unless it was necessary to leave their home.

“ The only way the virus can continue to travel is if it goes from person to person so if we stay at home, it eliminates probability of us getting it and it eliminates probability of us giving it to someone else,” Vera said, “so, to me, that is the biggest thing that we can do to curtail the spreading of the virus.”

Dr. Jose Vazquez, the county’s health authority, said he agreed with Vera that it was too soon to begin opening up these businesses.

Vazquez said Thursday that he agreed the economy had to re-open but that now was not the time to re-open theaters and dine-in restaurants.

He did, however, encourage more outdoor activities and the loosening of restrictions on parks.

And while the county can no longer enforce the use of masks or require people to stay at home, he seemed optimistic that would not affect Starr County’s success at maintaining a low number of positive cases.

In fact, he credits their success not to fines but to people’s education on the issue.

“ We will continue educating,” Vazquez said.

In line with Abbott’s order, Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez announced the county’s emergency order requiring that people stay at home and wear face masks would expire at midnight.

Individual cities also amended their emergency order to comply with Abbott’s, including Palmview, Edinburg, and Rio Grande City.

Rio Grande City further announced that the curfew previously included in their emergency order had expired; however, a curfew for juveniles was still active.

The city of Edinburg’s disaster declaration continues to recommend that people stay home as much as possible and wear facial coverings in public places.

It does require that individuals maintain a 6-foot distance from individuals not in their household and that people isolate if they are sick.

bereniceg@themonitor.com