RGV hospitals adopt new visitor screenings, guidelines

Rio Grande Valley hospitals are creating new rules for patients and visitors as they brace for what’s being considered an inevitable COVID-19 confirmation. And while they might limit interactions between patients and their loved ones, medical officials say they are necessary in order to stymie the pandemic. South Texas Health System — which operates five acute hospitals and one behavioral one — was among the first to screen visitors last week, with long lines forming outside McAllen Medical Center as staff asked each visitor about their health and recent travels. “We, as hospital administrators and the larger team at McAllen Medical Center, apologize for the waiting out front for the change in the visitation policy,” Chief Operating Officer Doug Colburn said Monday. “Sorry for the wait, but we appreciate people being patient as they wait to see their loved one in the hospital." Read the full story at themonitor.com.

Pandemic fuels questions in Weslaco bribery case

Federal prosecutors want to know how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect their plans to take three men to trial on charges that they spent years conspiring together to profit off the $38.5 million rehabilitation of the Weslaco water treatment plant. To that end, U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez handed down an order Tuesday agreeing to the government’s request for a status hearing on the case, which is set for jury selection on July 7. The parties will meet for that status conference — in person, or via videoconference — on June 16, the order reads. The three defendants awaiting their days in court include former Precinct 1 Hidalgo County Commissioner Arturo “A.C.” Cuellar, Weslaco businessman Ricardo Quintanilla, and Daniel J. Garcia, an attorney from Rio Grande City. Read the full story at themonitor.com

Moved by mother’s tears, Alamo artist pays homage to missing Fort Hood soldier with...

With only $40 worth of paint and the help of his family, Alamo muralist Alexander Gonzalez brought the search for Vanessa Guillen to the Rio Grande Valley this week. Painting Wednesday and Thursday, Gonzalez’s mural graces the Hernandez Car Wash in Donna, showing Guillen dressed in her uniform in front of a backdrop of the U.S. and Mexican flags. Guillen, a 20-year-old private first class in the U.S. Army, disappeared two months ago from Fort Hood in Killeen. Authorities suspect foul play was involved in her disappearance. Read the full story at themonitor.com

Court: Trump administration must immediately accept new DACA applications 

A Maryland federal court ruled the Trump administration must begin accepting new Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program applications immediately.  More than three weeks after the Supreme Court ruled the Trump administration could not end DACA, a lower federal court demanded it begin accepting new applications. The Obama-era program allows people who came to the country as children and meet several guidelines, to request consideration of deferred action for a period of two years, subject to renewal. The program provides nearly 800,000 immigrants a reprieve from deportation and the ability to work legally in the U.S., but does not provide a path for citizenship. Read the full story at themonitor.com

Hidalgo Co. issues shelter-at-home order as virus deaths, cases surge

As a response to the surge of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the Rio Grande Valley, Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez enacted a shelter-at-home order Monday, mandating residents to remain at home, obey curfews and wear facial coverings in public. Under the order, residents are only allowed to leave their homes for necessary reasons, or to obtain necessary resources, such as medication or doctor visits. Anyone under 17 is mandated to be accompanied by a parent or guardian while out of the house for these activities. A curfew for residents older than 18 is set from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Read the full story at themonitor.com.

Federal court order restricts certain cases

In an effort to reduce the need for in-person appearances in court, the chief federal judge for the Southern District of Texas signed off on new orders restricting certain cases from having to appear. Beginning Monday, any case in which the pre-sentencing report guidelines are for 21 months of punishment or more will be continued until a date after May 15, the order signed by Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal stated. The Southern District of Texas is made up of eight divisions — McAllen, Brownsville, Laredo, Corpus Christi, Galveston, Victoria and Houston. Read the full story at themonitor.com.

Family of doctors forge legacy reaching from RGV to White House

For 70 years now, three generations of doctors have worked tirelessly to improve their communities, leaving their indelible marks wherever they go. Originally from Starr County, the Ramirez family has amassed a long list of accomplishments — so long, it’s almost impossible to list them all. Their journey began more than seven decades ago in what used to be a small agricultural and ranching community. Grandfather, father and son would eventually become doctors and their dedication to public service would put them on a path to the White House and beyond. Read the full story at themonitor.com

2 new coronavirus fatalities reported in Valley

Officials in Hidalgo and Cameron counties reported two new coronavirus fatalities Thursday. In Hidalgo County, officials reported the death of a 77-year-old Mission man who had underlying medical conditions, according to a news release. The man’s death was the second COVID-19 related fatality in as many days, and marked the third such death in Hidalgo County overall. Meanwhile, in Cameron County, an 82-year-old woman who was a resident of the Veranda Nursing Home in Harlingen died at the facility, county officials reported there. Her death marks the fourth COVID-19 fatality in that county. Read the full story at themonitor.com.

Brownsville students getting in spirit of Charro Days

Hundreds of students braved the cold weather Friday morning to kick off the Charro Days celebration at Putegnat Elementary School with a dance that entertained family members, who watched them perform to songs such as El Mariachi Loco wearing colorful dresses and Charro suits from Mexico. Read the full story at themonitor.com.

Meteorologist tracks weather for the Valley

Kirk Caceres, 46, has been an operational meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Brownsville for nearly 17 years. Brownsville’s branch of the National Weather Service monitors weather patterns across the Rio Grande Valley and is one of 122 stations nationwide that create the forecasts and advisories the public sees on television and online. Read the full story at themonitor.com.

Weslaco mulls fate of charter amendment election

On Tuesday, the Weslaco City Commission discussed how to move forward with a special election to amend the city’s charter. As in other municipalities, the fate of Weslaco’s May election has been upended by the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. While most government entities chose to delay their spring elections until November after Gov. Greg Abbott urged them to do so last month, Weslaco leaders initially held off on making a similar decision. And after Tuesday’s regular meeting, that decision remains up in the air. At stake are charter amendments that, if passed, would change the face of the commission and its districts. Read the full story at themonitor.com

Hidalgo County COVID-19 update: 7 new cases, 9 total recovered

Hidalgo County officials reported that seven more people have tested positive for COVID-19 Thursday, for a total of 146 cases. Officials also shared some good news, adding that nine people have since been cleared to leave isolation, including one individual who was cleared Thursday. Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez, who called Thursday’s report “encouraging” nonetheless urged residents to continue abiding by social distancing recommendations and the county’s stay-at-home order. Read the full story at themonitor.com.

AG sides with Hidalgo Co. on withholding internal COVID-19 communications

The Monitor has lost an effort to learn more about the internal thinking and preparation for COVID-19 between various Hidalgo County health officials. The newspaper filed a Texas Public Information Act request on March 19, two days before the county reported its first positive case of the virus, in an attempt to learn more about how officials monitored the pandemic’s development and how they prepared for COVID-19 here. On March 24, the county asked the Texas Attorney General’s Office for an opinion on whether that information was subject to public disclosure. Read the full story at themonitor.com

Judge denies bond reduction request from teen charged with murder

A 17-year-old teen accused of a fatal shooting will remain in jail on $1 million in bonds, a judge ruled. State district Judge Ysmael D. Fonseca Jr. on Friday denied Ryan Jet Rodriguez's request for a bond reduction or for release because of lack of probable cause, court records show. Rodriguez has remained in jail on charges of murder and attempted murder since March 23. Rodriguez is charged along with 20-year-old Tanner Charles Dickerson-Rodriguez for the March 23 shooting death of 18-year-old Angel Gonzalez in the 1000 block of Esperanza Street. Read the full story at themonitor.com.

Hidalgo County reports 2 new COVID-19 cases

Hidalgo County officials announced two additional cases of COVID-19 Sunday afternoon.  There are now 190 cases, Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez said in a news release Sunday. Thirty-three of the positive cases are in area hospitals; six are in intensive care units.  Read the full story at themonitor.com

UTRGV to open drive-thru COVID-19 screening sites at Edinburg, Brownsville campuses

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine will open two drive-thru sites for COVID-19 screening on Monday. According to a UTRGV statement issued to students and staff Friday evening, the drive-thrus, which are being held by the School of Medicine together with UT Health RGV, will be open at the Edinburg and Brownsville campuses by appointment only. These sites will be open to employees, students and the public. On-site evaluation will also be available for individuals 18 years old or older who qualify. All this after mandatory telephone screening, according to the statement. Individuals will also be asked for their identification. Read the full story at themonitor.com

Hidalgo County cites HIPAA for being light on case details

Hidalgo County officials are still not revealing many details regarding an assisted living facility here that informed residents and their families nearly a week ago of a resident testing positive for COVID-19. On Friday, April 10, Sunshine Retirement Living informed that a resident at The Gardens at Brookridge Assisted Living in Pharr was diagnosed with COVID-19 and hospitalized. The resident, according to the letter, was “only in the community for 6 days and isolated during this time,” from April 1 to 6. The letter further indicated that the resident was recently hospitalized for observation purposes. Read the full story at themonitor.com

Mexican farmers set up blockade at Pharr port of entry

Pharr city officials reported a situation regarding a blockade on the Mexican side of the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge.  According to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection official, the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge has been stopped since 8 p.m. Wednesday. Organized by protesters in response to certain conditions in their industry, according to a CBP official, the blockade blocked access to the Pharr bridge with agricultural tractors and machinery.  Read the full story at themonitor.com

Economic agencies leap in to aid struggling businesses

For Mario Lozoya and his Greater Brownsville Incentives Corp., focus and effort usually involves supporting businesses straddling the border, working to enhance international trade opportunities. But like other local economic development organizations these days, the GBIC is learning that all business in the coronavirus era, like that famous saying about politics, is local. “We’ve put a lot of focus on current local business here as we see the COVID-19 impact on small business directly, so we’ve been dealing a lot with that,” said Lozoya, executive director and CEO of the GBIC. Read the full story at themonitor.com

Virus, fewer applications may lead to CIS furloughs

Officials with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said they will be forced to furlough as many as 13,000 employees beginning in August if Congress does not provide more than $1.2 billion to cover a budget shortfall.  The USCIS is the agency tasked with administering the country’s naturalization and immigration system.  Citing COVID-19, as well as policy changes from the Trump administration with regard to legal immigration, USCIS officials said an emergency $1.2 billion is the infusion the department would need from Congress to avoid sending up to 80% of its workers home for an extended period of time.  Read the full story at themonitor.com.

McAllen deals with $3.3M shortfall

Commissioners here amended the budget Monday to cover a $3.3 million shortfall caused by three COVID-19 programs designed to provide relief to residents and business owners.  Last week, McAllen commissioners agreed to spend a total of $5.56 million on the three relief programs: $2 million to offer small businesses $5,000 grants; $1 million to help homeowners affected by the virus make their rent and mortgage payments; and $2.56 million to install Wi-Fi capabilities in residential areas south of Pecan Boulevard.   “We’re recommending that projects that you voted on last week be completed through the development corp.,” McAllen City Manager Roy Rodriguez told commissioners Monday. “It only causes us one problem: If you do them all, it shows that we’re going to be in the red.” Read the full story at themonitor.com.

Starr County reports 106 new coronavirus cases, new single-day high

Starr County reported 106 new cases of COVID-19 Saturday, far surpassing its previous single-day record earlier this month. The newly confirmed cases are from results...

Arguing new evidence, defense attorneys call 2007 Donna murder conviction into question

Douglas Tyrone Armstrong walked out of the Sunshine Bar in Donna at 9 p.m. on April 21, 2006. Forty-five minutes later, police arrested him for the violent murder of Rafael Castelan. Less than a year later, on Jan. 11, 2007, a jury took approximately three-and-a-half hours to convict Armstrong of slashing Castelan's throat and stealing his Medicaid card. Read the full story at themonitor.com

Program to aid rural families and businesses nears launch

Rural Hidalgo County families and business owners will soon be able to apply for economic relief for hardships caused by COVID-19, county officials announced Tuesday.  Hidalgo County Commissioners approved a program Tuesday that will help 4,000 households pay for up to two months of rent or mortgage, and invested $3.5 million to create the Hidalgo County CARES Small Business Grant Program, which offers $5,000 grants to businesses that were previously forced to close under emergency orders from the county.  Read the full story at themonitor.com

Hidalgo Co. reports 27 more COVID-19 deaths; testing surpasses 70,000

Hidalgo County reported 27 more people died due to complications related to COVID-19 on Friday and 451 more people tested positive for the disease. The county is now at 267 total deaths and 10,943 cases as the county surpasses 70,000 tests administered, according to a release issued by the county Friday. "I send my condolences to these 27 families for the loss of their loved one,” said Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez. “Our medical experts tell us the best way to stop the spread is to wear a mask, use proper hygiene, keep 6 feet apart from others, and avoid any social gatherings of 10 people or more.” Read the full story at themonitor.com

Edinburg auto theft investigation leads to guns, drugs and money

When Edinburg investigators worked to determine who evaded arrest after leading them in a police chase in a stolen car on April 14, they ended up with more than just an auto theft case on their hands. Instead, the investigation lead to the arrest of three men and the seizure of four vehicles, nearly 400 pounds of marijuana, a half pound of cocaine, 26 weapons, including a .50 caliber Desert Eagle handgun, and more than $125,000 in cash. In a news release, police say they engaged in a chase after responding to an auto theft in progress on the 1500 block of Armagoza Drive. Read the full story at themonitor.com

Groups sue ICE on behalf of detainees

On Wednesday, attorneys representing three detainees held at South Texas detention centers filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in an effort to have them released from the detention centers. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, MALDEF, and the Texas Civil Rights Project, along with their attorneys, filed the suit arguing three detainees, Raul Garza Marroquin, Rafael Olvera Amezcua, and Giorge Gonzalez, are “uniquely vulnerable to contracting the novel coronavirus disease while in custody at three different detention centers in South Texas, including the Port Isabel Detention Center, the Webb County Detention Center, and the Rio Grande Detention Center, the lawsuit states in part. Filed in the Southern District of Texas, Laredo Division, the lawsuit claims the government is violating their clients’ rights by continuing to detain them despite their susceptibility to contracting the virus; mainly their respective underlying medical conditions and advanced age. Read the full story at themonitor.com

H-E-B expands temporary hours

Grocery shoppers will have a little more time to purchase their essentials after H-E-B on Wednesday announced they will be extending their temporary hours of operation. “Starting on Monday, April 27, H-E-B stores will open at 7 a.m. and close at 10 p.m. until further notice,” the company said via a news release. In-store pharmacies will continue to operate from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. As the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic began to spur a wave of panic buying of both pantry and household staples, such as toilet paper, the grocery chain instituted reduced hours at all its locations on March 15. Stores limited their hours to just 12 hours per day, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., in order to allow employees to keep up with high demand. Read the full story at themonitor.com.

Eleven cases reported in Cameron Co. 

Cameron County reported 11 new COVID-19 cases Saturday, bringing the total there to 432.   Those infected range in ages from 7 to 90 years old, with a majority residing in Harlingen.  Of the 432 cases, 202 individuals have recovered. Read the full story at themonitor.com

Passengers numbers soar at McAllen airport

2019 was a record-setting year for enplanements at McAllen International Airport. According to a news release, McAllen International Airport (MFE) experienced approximately 432,178 passenger boardings last year, a 20% increase from 2018. The 2019 passenger boardings also happen to be the highest number of enplanements in MFE’s history. Read the full story at themonitor.com