EDINBURG, Texas – Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez says Bishop of Brownsville Daniel Flores did not participate in any discussions about an executive order for shelter-at-home.

Cortez telephoned The Rio Grande Guardian to make this point clear after we ran a story headlined, “Podcast: Cortez speaks to Bishop Flores before issuing stay-at-home order.”

Cortez said he called Bishop Flores for spiritual guidance. He said he spoke to a number of health experts, mayors, and state and local emergency management officials before making decision.

“I called many people, for guidance, advice and for pray, seeking to find ways to help but I did not ask the bishop, about shelter in place,” Cortez told The Rio Grande Guardian. 

“I had to apologize to the bishop. I do not want to bring him into something like this. I did not talk to the bishop about shelter in place. I talked to the bishop about helping us deliver a message to the people to stay home. I did not ask him, what do you think about shelter in place? I spoke to the bishop about trying to pass the word to people stay at home. I do not want anybody to think that the bishop had anything to do with that order. I was looking for help.”

Editor’s Note: The Rio Grande Guardian is happy to report this distinction.

Cortez also said he was about to report 49 COVID-19 fatalities Tuesday. “It is a record for one day. We are in serious trouble here.”

Asked how many new positive COVID-19 cases have been reported, Cortez said: “There are going to be 339 today but that does not include the ((Bert Ogden) Arena. Those numbers have not been reported. That is without the arena numbers. Can you imagine that? 339 without the arenas. Oh my God.”

Cortez said the Bert Ogden Arena is where they do 3,000 tests. “Tomorrow is going to be a disaster.”

Cortez was asked about a news release from the City of McAllen saying McAllen is open for business. The news release stated:

“Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s orders regarding businesses in Texas remain effect in cities across the state, including here in McAllen. All McAllen business owners are encouraged to review and abide by same.  Those orders do not require businesses to close nor are businesses or their customers required to adhere to particular hours, other than those contained in Governor Abbott’s orders. Like Governor Abbott, Mayor Jim Darling and all elected McAllen city officials, the City of McAllen encourages all of its citizens to practice social distancing, avoid large groups, and wear a mask.  These steps will help stop the spread of COVID-19.”

Asked if McAllen’s message about being open for business undermines Cortez’s voluntary shelter-at-home order, the county judge said: “I do not know what to tell you. Mayor Darling was on the call with the mayors when we discussed this thing. And I told them, this is a two-week, let me get your attention, a two-week, let’s all work together, a two-week, let’s all make some sacrifices, let’s beat this damn thing. So, they are coming out, businesses are open, golly. What can I say.”

Asked if he had spoke to Gov. Abbott, Cortez said: “We spoke to him today for about an hour. He is going to bring us help.”

Here is the original posting of the story about Cortez and Bishop Flores:

EDINBURG, Texas – Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez called Bishop of Brownsville Daniel Flores for spiritual guidance before announcing a new shelter at home order. 

The new order also includes a curfew, essential travel limitations and a requirement for everyone to use facial coverings while outdoors. Cortez acknowledges the order is not enforceable.

“Who would ever have thought back on March 21, when we had the first incident of someone testing positive, that we would be caught in this pandemic with these tragic numbers of people infected and fatalities. And the impact it would have on our businesses and people,” Cortez said during a Facebook live event.

Cortez said the situation has gotten so bad that the county is using refrigerated trucks as morgues. He said he was alarmed to learn that flea markets like the one in Alamo is still operating with visitors not adhering to social distancing guidelines.

“This is a monster,” Cortez said of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I have spent most of this weekend calling other county judges, calling the State of Texas emergency management team. I even called the bishop for spiritual help. I am looking around for every possible source of a solution as to how do we solve this problem.”

Cortez said that after discussing the situation with leaders in the medical community he has come to realize there is no easy fix. “There isn’t just one thing to do. It is going to take a combination of things,” he said. 

Acknowledging that his new shelter-in-place order lacks enforcement capability, Cortez said he does not think he needs it. He said he trusts that Hidalgo County residents will “do the right thing.”

Interviewed with News Talk 710 KURV, Cortez said: “I am going to issue an order for shelter in place for non-essential workers for two weeks. Obviously, enforcement will be an issue but I hope there is enough citizens in Hidalgo County that understand the severity of the problem and realize that we are not going to get rid of the problem by wishing it away. We are not going to get rid of it by blaming somebody else. We are going to get rid of it by the actions we take.”

Cortez told the radio station that local residents can no longer continue to go to flea markets unprotected. “We cannot continue to have large parties and gatherings. There were several going on over the weekend in several parts of the county.”

Cortez gave his interview before announcing that the death toll in Hidalgo County has risen to over 300. On Monday, Hidalgo County health officials reported 34 residents have died due to complications related to COVID-19 and 524 more people tested positive for the virus. The total number of positive cases in the county now stands at 12,787. 

“We have bite the bullet,” Cortez said, referring to his new executive order.

Asked what Gov. Greg Abbott would make of his decision to impose a shelter-in-place order, given that there has been no such order at the state level, Cortez said Abbott’s office pointed out that Houston imposed such an order and local residents simply went to Galveston to party.

Cortez said he responded to this point by telling the governor’s office that he believed the other three county judges in the Rio Grande Valley are of one mind.

“We have to take back control. We have lost control of it. How can you have 1,320 people, which is 15 percent of the people we are testing, that are coming up positive. If this continues, I mean just look at the multiplier effect. There is no solution. I wish I had a pill, I wish I had something that can help us. But, worldwide, no one has been able to solve this problem. Except staying away from people and facing coverings.”

Cortez told KURV a tragic story of how he was trying to get oxygen for a man in his forties who was at home and had the virus. “All he needed was oxygen. But we ran out in the morning. By the time we were able to take some to the home the ambulance was outside to pick up the body.”

Cortez added: “I feel hopeless sometimes.” 

In a news release, Cortez referenced his new stay-at-home order. “Our rise in numbers and fatalities says that we need to take action now and do what’s in the best interest of our community. This action will help us do the right thing to save and protect each other from this deadly disease by sheltering at home.”

The new orders go into effect on Wednesday, July 22, 2020 at 12:01am and remain in effect until 11:59p.m. on Wednesday, August 5, 2020.

Judge Cortez’s new order

1.     All individuals currently living within Hidalgo County, Texas are ORDERED to SHELTER-AT-HOME in their residence. It is highly encouraged and recommended that all commercial businesses operating within Hidalgo County, except essential covered businesses should cease all activities at facilities that may not be provided by curbside, drive-through, or take-out services.

2.     There will be a curfew for all persons aged eighteen (18) and over from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. The only exceptions are for a medical emergency, to provide covered essential services, or any other purpose permitted under this Order.

3.     To the greatest extent possible, all travel during the SHELTER-AT-HOME and CURFEW within the jurisdiction of Hidalgo to County should be limited to obtaining or performing essential covered services. Travel should be limited to no more than two (2) persons per vehicle for persons obtaining essential services, and four (4) persons per vehicles.

4.     Every person in the County of Hidalgo shall wear a face covering over the nose and mouth when inside a commercial entity or other building or space open to the public, or when in an outdoor public space; wherever it is not feasible to maintain six feet (6) of physical distancing from another person not in the same household.

5.     Any outdoor gathering of ten (10) or more people is prohibited unless the Mayor of the City in which the gathering is held, or the Hidalgo County Judge in the case of a gathering in an unincorporated area, approves of the gathering. Outdoor areas or outdoor venues shall operate at no more than fifty percent (50%) as underlined in the order.

In accordance with Governor Abbott’s Executive Order GA-29, following a verbal or written warning for a first-time violation of this face covering, a person’s second violation shall be punishable by a fine not to exceed $250. Each subsequent shall be punishable by a fine not to exceed $250 per violation.

“I am asking for all of us to come together and fight this battle as one,” Cortez said. “You are all part of the solution.”


Editor’s Note: The attached podcast features the commentary of Judge Cortez, state Sen. Juan Hinojosa of McAllen, Texas, Dr. Ivan Melendez, Hidalgo County’s health authority, and Dr. Victor Gonzalez of the Hidalgo-Starr County Medical Society:

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