EDINBURG, Texas – Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez has thanked Gov. Greg Abbott for responding quickly to his hospital staffing STAR request.

However, he says the governor could do more – by giving more autonomy to local leaders to deal with the coronavirus crisis.

In a letter to Abbott, Cortez said the governor’s decision to quickly fill the request of several area hospitals “will save lives.” He said he would personally like to thank Abbott for his immediate response.

With regard to the request for devolving more power to local governments, which was present during the early part of the coronavirus pandemic, Cortez wrote:

“These are difficult times and please know that I understand the weight and magnitude of the decisions that you face. As leaders we are faced with many difficult decision, but we need not face these decisions alone.

“I join other County Judges Fram across the State in requesting that allow us to help you in keeping Texans healthy. A rigid COVID-19 response across the entirety of the State is not only imprudent but irresponsible. The challenges facing some areas are vastly different from those in areas like Hidalgo County.”

Cortez said returning authority to local emergency managers is both a “wise and prudent” action.

“The ability to act quickly and decisively is critical as we face this public health emergency. As duly elected local leaders we possess a more complete understanding of the capabilities of local health systems, local customs, and a personal connection with our constituents.”

Cortez concluded his letter by stating: “Governor Abbott returning authority to local emergency managers across the State of Texas will allow for an efficient and effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic and save the lives of Texans.”

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez is pleased Judge Cortez sent the letter. Gonzalez said he, too, supported the move to give greater authority to local governmental entities.

“I urge him to grant the authority for municipalities to make their own decisions to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The current rules in place are hindering the virus response efforts of our cities.”

Gonzalez said he and some of his Texas Congressional colleagues have been urging the governor to grant emergency powers to local authorities to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. Such emergency powers could allow counties to institute enforceable stay-at-home orders.

“Governor Abbott has pursued one of the most aggressive economic reopening strategies in the United States that has resulted in skyrocketing COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Texas,” Gonzalez said, in a letter also signed by U.S. Reps. Filemon Vela of Brownsville, Marc Veasey of Fort Worth, Sylvia Garcia of Houston, Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston, Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas, Al Green of Houston, and Lloyd Doggett of Texas.

“Municipalities and their local law enforcement agencies must be allowed to listen to their health care experts and institute whatever measures are needed to bring the coronavirus under control,.”

The members of Congress acknowledged that Abbott took “important steps to mitigate the virus’ impact.” However, they say it was not enough. 

“The status quo is unacceptable and counties must be allowed to decide for themselves what is best for their citizens,” Gonzalez and his colleague said.

They pointed out that under the Governor’s current phased opening child care, youth camps and churches still have no limits on capacity. 

With the Fourth of July weekend approaching and no public mask mandate, many beaches remain open and gatherings up to 100 people are still permitted under the Governor’s current orders. 

Texas is now 4th among all 50 States in COVID cases and could become 3rd behind New York and California by this weekend. Two days ago it had 21,000 cases less than third placed New Jersey. Now it is only 8,000 cases behind the Garden State.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez at a recent roundtable discussion on COVID-19.

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