City: Restaurants, gyms in increase to 50% capacity

The City of Brownsville held a virtual press conference on Wednesday where it was announced restaurants and gyms can go back to 50 percent of their total capacity, as well as other updates on the COVID-19 pandemic such as the threat matrix lowering from red severe to orange significant.

The announcement about the capacity came a week after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced that the limitation the City of Brownsville had placed on restaurant capacity to less than 25 percent of total listed occupancy was invalid because it contradicted the governor’s orders to operate up to 50 percent.

Brownsville Mayor Trey Mendez said during the press conference that he would ask both the attorney general and the governor to reconsider their state-wide orders on occupancy because risk-factors in communities vary and in Brownsville there are risk factors that other parts of the state don’t have, such as the high rate of diabetes and obesity.

He said both the attorney general and the governor need to consider giving local control back to the local elected leaders such as county judges, mayors and city commissioners because they are in a better position to know their communities.

“I get reports from one hospital in particular on deaths and what existing co-morbidities these individuals had that died and I see the same thing over and over again: hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and obesity. So, because of that I don’t think that a blanket order for the entire state is something that works,” Mendez said.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the City of Brownsville has reported 408 COVID-19 deaths, 12,145 positive cases and 10,580 recovered. The city has administered via their drive-thru testing more than 15,000 tests.

City Commissioner Rose Gowen said the commission’s first preference would be to remain at 25 percent capacity at gyms and restaurants but they are doing everything they can as a city to announce, to promote, to encourage the people to be careful, to follow the recommendations; mask wearing, social distancing, hand washing and avoid confined spaces.

“We are doing a lot of PR work for that but in the end it falls to the individual’s responsibility and sense of whether or not they’re going to follow those rules. … Is that going to work perfectly? I hope so, but we don’t know that because everyone has their individual choice,” she said.

The city released in July a color- coded Threat Matrix to provide a visual status of how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the city. The goal of the matrix is to provide residents with recommendations to stay safe and lessen the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

During the press conference, officials announced the matrix has gone from red severe to orange significant due to the decrease of positive cases in Brownsville. However, Health Director Art Rodriguez added the positive rate is still pretty high when compared to the states.

Dr. Joseph McCormick, from the Hispanic Health Research Center, said the community needs to remain vigilant even though things are getting better because the city has experienced what happens when the economy reopens too quickly. He said when businesses were allowed to reopen in May, COVID-19 cases increased dramatically in the following weeks with the positive cases going from 10 to 12 per day all the way to 500 per day.

“We are not through this yet, we don’t have perfect treatment, we don’t have vaccines and so it remains a high possibility that we will start to see some kind of a surge, especially if you look at what happens in the fall with the flu, we might very well see a surge in COVID-19,” McCormick said.