Despite Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent statewide mask order and limits on public gatherings, local Rio Grande Valley politicians are not satisfied. Democrat county judges in Hidalgo, Cameron, Starr, and Willacy counties have joined the public calls for Abbott to return their power to shut down the local economies again.
Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez announced on Sunday evening he will be issuing a “stay-at-home” order, despite his inability to enforce it.
Abbott stated at this weekend’s Republican Party of Texas state convention that, contrary to persistent rumors, he will not be shutting down the state again. These words came to the dismay of RGV county judges and mayors, who have all asked the governor in recent days to give them back their power to shut down. Democrat Congressmen Filemon Vela and Vicente Gonzalez also joined with Sheila Jackson Lee and Joaquin Castro on Friday in asking the governor to return this power to the local authorities.
A few days later, Cortez nevertheless announced his own order. Acknowledging his lack of enforcement capabilities, Cortez said, “But you know what? I don’t think I’m going to need it,” believing citizens would get the idea.
“I want to tell you that locking down people, locking down businesses, is not the sole answer,” he added. “It’s going to take a combination of things.”
While the details of the order have yet to be released—and if the order would even be enforceable—Hidalgo County, among the 3 other RGV counties, was quick to impose the strictest rules from its previous “stay-at-home” orders. On Sunday, Hidalgo County also issued an order requiring a mandatory quarantine and full cooperation with contact tracing efforts of any person who tested positive for the coronavirus or was exposed to it.
The order most notably extends to those who have not tested positive but instead have only “reasonable cause to believe” that they have been exposed to it. Those people are ordered to quarantine for 14 days, make a list of all individuals they may have come into contact with, and inform their employers of their possible exposure.
Failure to comply with the health order could subject a person to criminal prosecution under the Texas Health and Safety Code or civil court proceedings. That order can be viewed here.
Abbott has come under criticism for signing a $295 million, 27-month contract for contact tracing with New York-based tech company MTX Group, as Texans fear its privacy-violating policies.
The Rio Grande Valley has emerged as one of the hotspots for the coronavirus. Hidalgo County, in response, announced last week that school districts will be forbidden from holding in-person classes until September 27. Hidalgo County Health Authority Dr. Ivan Melendez announced on Sunday that more than 1,000 new cases and more than 40 deaths were reported in Hidalgo County this past weekend.