My dear Hidalgo County citizens, I am our County Judge Richard Cortez. 

As a community we are facing truly challenging times. Our lives have been dramatically altered by an enemy we cannot see. We are surrounded by a danger that threatens the elderly, the sick and the compromised. 

For almost two months now we have operated under a public health disaster declaration. Our operations grew increasingly more cautious as we worked to protect our medical resources from being overrun. 

To date we have succeeded in slowing the spreading of this virus. We are into week number eight. If you recall, Week No. 1, 11 people tested positive. In week No. 2, 51 tested positive. Week 3, 66 tested positive. Week 4, 70 – which was the highest week so far. In Week 5, it went down to 63; Week 6, 42. Last week it was 36. This week it looks as if it could be under 36. So, that’s good news. 

Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez

A pandemic has a lifecycle pattern: the outbreak, the spreading, the slowdown, then, of course, the end. This disease has had many unknown and known consequences that touched things physical, emotional, social, economic, religious and educational. Therefore, we must learn from this experience in order to prepare us for the future. 

Many of the things that we took for granted have begun to feel like a distant memory. The small acts of kindness like a handshake and a hug are now considered potentially deadly and dangerous. 

But, I am so proud of you. Many of you in Hidalgo County rose to the occasion. Most of us stayed at home and practiced the necessary precautions. We learned to use Zoom and come together with a physical distance and separation. We started wearing masks and washing our hands and together we slowed the spread of COVID-19 in our community to an acceptable level.

Friday, we began the cautious task of reopening our state and county. Together we will define what new normal will look like. You, the people of Hidalgo County, understand what it takes to slow the spread of this virus. We know that the precautions we have taken have been successful in protecting our community. 

Just look at our numbers and compare them to other areas. However, it has come at a great sacrifice to many. The emergency orders I previously issued constituted an extraordinary action in confronting an extraordinary challenge. Now, most of those restrictions have been restricted have been lifted because Governor Abbott has started to reopen Texas. 

We trust in you, you the citizens of Hidalgo County. Just one person has the power to make a difference by just following simple tasks. We need to remember that this is a shared threat. Our future is a shared existence. The next few weeks will be critical in re-establishing normal activities. Please do not let the sacrifices of our medical professionals, our first responders, even our graduating seniors, and our small business owners, go to vain.

This is a call to action for everyone’s benefit. Don’t let your guard down. Hidalgo County, it is up to you to continue to act responsibly by avoiding large gatherings, keeping physical separation, covering your face, washing your hands, sanitizing often touched surfaces and avoiding unnecessary travel.

Soon the governor will let us know when other businesses and other certain gatherings can open. We will have to wait for his announcement. But now, to begin our economic recovery, and give financial assistance to our local small businesses and individuals, who have been affected by my public health emergency order that started back on March 21, I will be asking the commissioners court to appropriate as much as the funds that are eligible from the corona relief fund monies to go towards grants for qualified small businesses and individuals in Hidalgo County. 

This is intended to compensate those businesses and individuals that suffered during this interruptive stage. We are hoping that amount can get as high as $38 million. 

I want you to know that we have not yet established the guidelines for the grants. However, they will follow federal requirements. We are soon meeting to decide who would be eligible and how we will administer these grants. So please, don’t call us yet. We will let you know, very soon, when and how to apply.

I want to especially thank both Senator Cornyn and Senator Cruz, along with Representatives Vicente Gonzalez, Henry Cuellar and Filemon Vela for assisting us in procuring those funds. I also want to thank our state senators, Senator Eddie Lucio and Juan ‘Chuy’ Hinojosa, along with our state Representatives Oscar Longoria, Sergio Munoz, Jr., Armando Martinez, Terry Canales and Bobby Guerra for their support in obtaining necessary state support and resources. 

Finally, I would like to thank our four county commissioners and all our city mayors for their support and for all the work they have done during these past couple of months. 

By working together, tomorrow will be even better. Thank you and may God bless us all.

Editor’s Note: The above guest column is based on commentary made by Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez at a virtual news conference held May 6, 2020. Here is the commentary in video:

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