Counties and cities across the Rio Grande Valley moved quickly on Tuesday to enact new measures to encourage social distancing and limit the number of people allowed in public places to counter the dangers and potential outbreak of the coronavirus.
Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez issued a disaster declaration due to a public health emergency after conferring with leaders of the county’s 22 cities. The declaration became effective Tuesday and will remain in effect for seven days. The declaration is expected to last until at least March 31. It prohibits gatherings of 50 or more people in the county.
“This is not an easy decision,” Cortez said. “I recognize the hardships that this declaration may have on many of our citizens.”
Being proactive in times of uncertainty
The county judge notes there are no known cases of COVID-19 thus far in Hidalgo County. That is expected to change as testing for the disease becomes more readily available. Cities like Brownsville and McAllen are not waiting for confirmed coronavirus cases before taking action. Both cities announced new measures on Tuesday to minimize public gatherings.
Brownsville declared a state of emergency. The city’s declaration takes effect on March 18 and mandates that restaurants and bars have a limit of 50 percent of occupancy to comply with social distancing requirements. Places of worship, movies theaters and gymnasiums must meet the same requirement.
In McAllen, Mayor Jim Darling declared a local disaster on Tuesday. The city until at least April 1 is prohibiting community gatherings of over 50 people. The McAllen declaration authorizes police officers, code compliance officers and the fire marshal to enforce the order, with a violation to be a Class C Misdemeanor.
Tuesday also saw several area school districts extend current spring break periods by up to two weeks. McAllen, Edinburg, Harlingen and Brownsville schools were among the school districts that announced extensions of spring breaks through March, and in some cases, extending to early April.
“We are in unprecedented territory in an extraordinarily challenging time,” said Harlingen school district Superintendent Art Cavazos.