EDINBURG, Texas – Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez says that as things stand, he does not intend to declare a local health emergency.

However, El Paso County Judge Ricardo A. Samaniego has done so.

Both made announcements on the subject after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state emergency and President Trump declared a national emergency.

Here is the rationale they gave for their decisions:

Richard Cortez’s perspective:

We remain vigilant to the rapidly evolving situation around the country and our state. We are also keenly aware of the annual increase in domestic travelers coming through Hidalgo County for Spring Break and Mexican travelers coming through the county for Semana Santa for the remainder of this month.

Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez

As it stands at this moment, I do not intend to declare any local health emergency because Hidalgo County has not seen a single case in which a person has been confirmed positive for COVID-19. We have been working for months to prepare for any local outbreak, particularly now that we know the fast-moving nature of COVID-19 and the danger it can pose in particular for our elderly residents.

The moment we learn of any local instance of someone with COVID-19 in Hidalgo County, I intend to immediately declare a local health emergency and will suspend any mass gatherings in the county.

This declaration will initiate a carefully planned emergency operation center to respond to any outbreak and will pave the way for the necessary resources to mitigate the impact of the disease locally. Until that declaration is made, I urge residents of and visitors to Hidalgo County to exercise discretion when considering whether to attend any mass gathering. I would also advise people to consider the three guidelines provided by state health experts and the governor on Thursday as a basis for deciding whether to attend any mass gathering. This includes re-considering whether to attend any event in which more than 1,000 people are expected; taking into account the crowd density of any indoor or outdoor event; and deciding whether the mass gathering is essential or whether it is being held for leisure or entertainment.

I have full faith that Hidalgo County residents and visitors will make the right choices as our state and country contends with this pandemic and the challenges that it brings.

Ricardo A. Samaniego’s perspective:

El Paso County Judge Ricardo A. Samaniego

Today, the County and City of El Paso held a joint press conference to announce Declarations of Local Disaster Due to the Public Health Emergency relating to COVID-19. This announcement follows Governor Greg Abbott’s Declaration of a State of Disaster in all counties due to the outbreak and the continued efforts to combat the virus. It is a priority that your local governments are aligned with the state and federal governments in protecting and caring for our communities.

The Declaration of Local Disaster and Public Health Emergency allows the County to take necessary measures to reduce the possibility of exposure to disease, as well as control the risk and prevent the spread of the virus. The County of El Paso is committed to continue collaborative work in the region to ensure all appropriate and necessary measures are taken to limit the spread of COVID-19.

The County of El Paso is working to implement aggressive and actionable plans to slow the transmission of COVID-19 in an effort to reduce illness and minimize social and economic impacts. The County will address issues related to Public Safety, General Services, Courts and Justice operations as well as internal services.

El Paso County Judge Ricardo A. Samaniego

We ask every member of our community to remain calm, to not stockpile supplies (medication, paper goods, water, food, etc.), and to seek medical attention if you are experiencing fever, cough, or difficulty breathing, or have been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19. It is also important to note that testing is available locally and the testing process also occurs here in this community.

Event/Activity Cancellations – In the interest of the public’s health and safety, The County of El Paso has taken action to suspend activities and events being held at the Sportspark and Ascarate Park. This includes all tournament play and all scheduled events. The County has also suspended all travel for its employees until further notice.

The El Paso County Sports Commission is postponing all events indefinitely beginning March 15, 2020 at midnight.

The County will be utilizing electronic/digital methods for conducting public and internal meetings as much as possible. Also, those scheduled for jury duty will be excused from service starting today, March 13, 2020 through April 1, 2020. Those jurors will be rescheduled for a later date.

Please rest assured that your County government is open for business. The measures we are taking are done so in an abundance of caution and are intended to keep residents safe and healthy.

As of today at Noon, there are a total of 1,629 COVID-19 cases and 41 deaths in the United States. The breakdown of these numbers are as follows: (Source www.cdc.gov)

  • Travel-Related – 138
  • Close Contact – 129
  • Under Investigation – 1,362

We continue to urge all residents to follow the guidelines below to help prevent the spread of COVID-19: (Source https://www.dshs.texas.gov/)

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then wash your hands.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

Click here to view the Declaration of Local Disaster, and click here to view an updated notice from the Council of Judges.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez.

Editor’s Note: Reporter Ron Whitlock will have the perspective of Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño, Jr., in our next edition.