Pandemic Jolts Valley Life With Changes

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Pandemic Jolts Valley Life With Changes

Valley Baptist Medical Center staff in Brownsville with a “thank you” cake, compliments of Linda’s Cakes & Desserts Speciality Shop. (Courtesy)
Valley Baptist Medical Center staff in Brownsville with a “thank you” cake, compliments of Linda’s Cakes & Desserts Speciality Shop. (Courtesy)

The month of March started like any other with businesses to run, bills to pay and jobs to fill.

There was also a general awareness of a growing threat. The COVID-19, known as the coronavirus, was making its way across the oceans to the United States. 

In fact, it had already arrived.

Jams and honey are among the many product offerings of the Rancho Viejo Farmers Market, which saw a quick revamping in operations due to the coronavirus crisis. (Courtesy)
Jams and honey are among the many product offerings of the Rancho Viejo Farmers Market, which saw a quick revamping in operations due to the coronavirus crisis. (Courtesy)

By mid-March, the threat was very real. Coronavirus outbreaks hit both coasts of the United States. Texas would not be spared. On March 20, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order closing schools, dine-in restaurants and bars, saying only businesses deemed “essential” could continue to operate. 

Social distancing then became the new buzz words of the day. The Rio Grande Valley had its first confirmed coronavirus case nearly a week after the governor’s order.

The new normal would soon include shelter-in-place orders issued by county judges in the Valley. Law enforcement authorities have increasingly indicated a willingness to enforce the orders in stopping vehicles with more than two passengers and questioning why motorists are on the road.

It was one of the many disruptions of daily life where a resident could be pulled over by police officers for going to a grocery store or pharmacy atop of nearly all public events being cancelled – even religious services. 

“I know there will be people who will weep because they can’t go to Mass,” said Bishop Daniel Flores of the Diocese of Brownsville in announcing in late March the postponement of all church services and programs. 

By April, many RGV businesses had ground to a standstill, if not a cessation of operations. 

“It’s been a shock for everyone,” said Sergio Contreras, the president and chief executive officer of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership. “We’ve not seen anything like this in our lifetimes”

Getting Through It

A cook at work at Wing Barn, which was offering 50-cent wings while shelter-in-place orders are in place.
A cook at work at Wing Barn, which was offering 50-cent wings while shelter-in-place orders are in place.

The people of the Valley displayed acts of kindness amidst the heartache. Harlingen firefighters set up a drive-through grocery line at Fair Park one Sunday afternoon. The sales of eggs, milk and toilet paper would merely cover the cost of purchase from a regional supplier. Firefighters said they hoped to especially help the elderly with needed items and limit community exposure to the virus at crowded grocery stores.

“There’s no profit in this. We’re here to help out,” said a firefighter who identified himself as Evan during a live stream of the event. 

Wing Barn restaurants of the Valley reached out to their communities in the best way it could. Proclaiming that it was “not fake news,” Wing Barn began offering 50-cent wings at its restaurants.

“This is our way to give back,” the regional restaurant said on its Facebook page. “This is what we can do for our RGV community.”

Wing Barn’s offer of inexpensive wings came with hundreds of messages of gratitude from its customers and others, thankful for just a bit of good news of comfort food at good prices in tough times. 

It’s a community and a region sure to change by the pandemic of COVID-19. The changes are already evident and the adjustments are also difficult.

“People are missing the interactions, the hugs, shaking hands, los carinos,” said Bonnie Emerson, the owner of the Rancho Viejo Farmers Market. “We’re all really missing it.”

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