EDINBURG, Texas – Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez’s shelter at home order has gone into effect. 

It started just as the county’s COVID-19 death toll reached 400. 

Wednesday evening, Judge Cortez reported an additional 33 residents had died due to complications related to the coronavirus. Another 650 have tested positive for the virus bringing the total number of positive cases in Hidalgo County to 13,776. 

Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez

“I am truly saddened by the passing of all 33 of our neighbors. My deepest sympathies and prayers go out to the friends and families who lost their loved ones,” Cortez said. 

“Our Shelter at Home order goes into effect tonight, I encourage you all to do your part in saving lives by abiding by the curfew, limiting your outings to only essential needs, avoiding any mass gatherings and continuing to use facial coverings while out in public.”

Cortez said there are 7,675 net active cases and 228 people were released from isolation on Wednesday meaning that they have been symptom-free for ten days, including three days without a fever. 

Cortez said there are currently 1,080 people hospitalized with complications from the virus; 257 of those cases are being treated in intensive care units.  

The new emergency orders announced by Judge Cortez include a shelter at home order, a curfew, essential travel limitations and a requirement for everyone to use facial coverings while outdoors. Under the order, residents are only allowed to leave their homes for necessary reasons, or to obtain necessary resources. A curfew for residents older than 18 is also set from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. 

On a related point, the City of McAllen has clarified the meaning of a news release it put out saying the city is open for business. The news release was interpreted by some as undermining Judge Cortez’s message.

McAllen city officials stated: “In response to numerous questions received at the City of McAllen relating to the new Hidalgo County order and Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s existing order, our objective is to answer these questions from business owners and the community. These questions mainly revolve around whether businesses must close. As Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez indicated, local officials are not allowed under the Governor’s order to require businesses to close. However, we support the efforts of Judge Cortez to stop the spread of the virus. We strongly encourage all our business community to join in such efforts by reducing their hours of operations to the hours as set out in the Hidalgo County order.”

State Rep. Terry Canales says he supports Judge Cortez’s executive order.

“In the Rio Grande Valley, funeral homes have set up temporary morgues and crematoriums are running overtime. Families must wait more than a week to bury their loved ones. For body couriers and funeral workers, there’s no letup in sight. Please follow the county judge’s orders and stay home. When you have to go out in public, always wear a mask,” Canales said.

Meanwhile, Cameron County health officials have received confirmation of 11 additional COVID-19 related deaths of Cameron County Residents. The individuals were a 86-year old female from Harlingen, a 56-year old female from San Benito, and 70-year old, 71-year old, and 83-year old males from San Benito. In addition, there was a 62-year old female, a 62-year old female, 65-year old female, as well as a 27-year old male, 75-year old male, and 80-year old male from Brownsville. This raises the number of COVID-19 related deaths in Cameron County to 137.

Cameron County has also received confirmation of an additional 334 laboratory reports of COVID-19. 

The Rio Grande Valley is now receiving national and international attention. The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times haver been had reporting crews in the region to cover the surge in COVID cases. Channel 4 News from the United Kingdom is also currently in the Valley.

Meanwhile, Texas Governor Greg Abbott says the Rio Grande Valley is a top priority in his efforts to reduce the surge of COVID-19 cases.

“Right now, the Valley is Texas’ top priority,” Abbott told CBS 4 News.

Abbott asked local authorities to enforce the mandatory use of facial coverings, adding that they have increased the number of medical personnel assigned to Hidalgo and Cameron counties to 1,200. He said told the TV station that number will double during the next week. 

“Everyone who needs access to medical personnel will get access. We will add additional bed space in Cameron and Hidalgo County. We will provide a space for those who have recovered but may not be ready to go home as well,” Abbott said.

Abbott has had telephone conversations this week with Judge Cortez and Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño, Jr. 

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows a Portsmouth, N.H., message board encouraging residents to stay home and practice social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: Dan”/NHPR)

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