Behave yourselves: County leaders say Labor Day will make or break reopening

Cameron County parks and beach access will remain closed through the Labor Day weekend, though they will begin reopening the day after.

That’s according to county Judge Eddie Trevino Jr., speaking at a Friday press conference. On Sept. 8, beach access will be reopened, as will certain parks, though parking capacity at the parks will be limited to 50 percent at first, he said. At Boca Chica Beach and County Access 5 and 6, vehicles must be parked at least 20 feet from each other, Trevino said.

“ We’re going to see what happens with Labor Day,” he said. “I hope that there is no spike, and if that’s the case we can continue reopening of beaches.”

Trevino said he asked South Padre Island leaders to close the city beach accesses over the long weekend as a safety measure, though the answer was no.

“ They advised me that they would not do that but that they would strictly enforce the regulations and mandates that they have in place with regards to the use of the umbrellas, the distancing between the umbrellas, no congregation of families and mandatory face masks,” he said “If you insist on going out to the beach this weekend the city beaches will be the only ones that you’ll have access to. We will continue to have the county beaches (access) closed through Monday.”

Trevino said the county has asked SpaceX to adjust its testing schedule to allow S.H. 4 to stay open and the public to visit Boca Chica Beach during daylight hours, now that it will be reopened. The county has kept Boca Chica and its other beach access points closed for several weeks, despite numerous public complaints, in order to get control of COVID-19, which has pervaded the Rio Grande Valley.

Another change is that the county curfew will begin at midnight rather than 11 p.m., Trevino said, adding that other parts of the county’s emergency order will remain in place, including mandatory use of facial coverings, limits on gatherings, sheltering in place, avoiding crowds, washing hands frequently and so on.

He said the “new normal” is wearing masks, social distancing and avoiding crowds. It’s up to the behavior of each county resident whether things continue reopening, Trevino said.

“ If you don’t do that we’re going to be right back here,” he said.

Trevino said the number of new cases is now averaging 125 a day instead of being in the hundreds a month ago, and that the falling number of cases is due to residents sticking to the mandates, which are based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The latest report as of Friday morning was 118 new cases.

Overall since the beginning of the pandemic the county has tested 118,452 people, resulting in 21,460 positive results, approximately 97,000 confirmed and unconfirmed negatives, 16,225 cleared/recovered, and 633 deaths.

County Health Authority Dr. James Castillo said residents’ adherence to the mandates is bearing fruit, though the numbers need to be lower. Under 100 cases a day will be a sign that the virus is under control in the county, while fewer than 50 means “we’re on the path toward reopening schools with the expectation we’ll be able to keep it under control,” he said.

The Labor Day weekend threatens the progress the county has made if people don’t take precautions, Castillo said, stressing how even small gatherings of friends and family in homes and backyards could combine to create another big surge that could again fill the hospitals beyond capacity with virus patients.

“ This virus spreads there too and we’ve all seen what it can do to families,” he said. “When we had the devastation in July, we can’t forget that. This weekend don’t let your guard down.”

Castillo said the hospitals are in much better shape as far as capacity though there are still 139 people hospitalized in the county with COVID-19 and people are still being admitted for new infections.

“ You do not want to be hospitalized with this illness,” he said.

County health Administrator Esmeralda Guajardo said the public should expect a sharp uptick in reported deaths over the next day or two, due to a discrepancy in how the state and county health departments have been reporting COVID-19-related fatalities. The discrepancy is related to the fact that the state has been basing its reports solely on Part 1 of death certificates, which deals with the cause of death, while the county also takes into consideration Part 2, which details contributing factors.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that public health departments don’t have access to death certificates and must rely on municipalities for such information, Guajardo said.

“ We expect to report in next couple of days over 100 deaths,” she said. “These deaths are from previous months.”