In what appears to be a first in Texas, several city governments have begun the process of setting up police checkpoints to enforce coronavirus-prompted stay-at-home orders. Another city has also announced a new measure that allows only a maximum of two people in a group to enter an essential business.
Edcouch, Palmview, Peñitas, and Roma are four South Texas cities that have begun, or expressed interest or intent, to set up police checkpoints. Edcouch was the first city to announce such a measure.
At an Edcouch checkpoint, City Manager Victor De La Cruz explained that citizens will be required to provide “documentation that they’re at work.”
“Employers are giving out letters to their employees [that say] ‘This is an essential employee.’ So, basically, as long as they have that documentation, that’s fine. Otherwise, of course, we’re going to issue out a citation.”
Checkpoints in Edcouch will be random, but at least one will be around 8 p.m.
City officials decided to use checkpoints after they claimed citizens were failing to adhere to the county stay-at-home order. De La Cruz cited the city’s fear that the RGV has an insufficient amount of beds and ventilators for patients, and that the dire scenes portrayed in New York could soon come to the RGV.
The RGV has 72 available ICU beds and 143 ventilators, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. The region also has 750 non-ICU beds and 599 surgical beds.
The city manager stated that after two days of using checkpoints, he began to see improvement and cooperation from the public, adding that on the first day, police “got a little happy with the citations.” De La Cruz also gave an example of how police escorted a man who was on his way to get his prescriptions and “made sure that he went back home after he got his medication.”
At the county level, Cameron County Sheriff Omar Lucio announced the assembly of a task force dedicated to patrolling the county to enforce the stay-at-home order.
“They’re going to be out there doing nothing but checking every vehicle that drives by. If there are two people in the vehicle, they’re going to be stopped. If there’s a family, they’re all going to get cited,” he said. Lucio also expressed that they may begin to set up roadblocks if he feels the people are not adhering to the travel policy. Such a move would essentially take Edcouch’s policy to a countywide level.
In Port Isabel, city officials announced on Thursday morning a slew of new travel restrictions, including a maximum limit of two people per vehicle, including boats. Additionally, no more than two people are allowed to use a shopping cart, and children under the age of 14 are no longer allowed to enter grocery stores. That order can be viewed here.
Meanwhile, in the mid-valley, Weslaco city officials caused confusion late Wednesday night with a hastily and subsequently amended order that originally also restricted all travel to two people per vehicle. The following morning, however, they removed the vehicle restriction and now only allow a maximum of two people per group to enter a business. For example, a family of five could drive together to the store, but only two could enter the store.
To date, there are 62 positive cases of COVID-19 in Hidalgo County and 37 cases in Cameron County. Starr County has five positive cases, and Willacy County has two.