MCALLEN, Texas – South Texas leaders say the coronavirus has not been beaten back sufficiently to “open up” the local economy.
The owners of a local restaurant, Wing Barn, agree. They say they have too much concern for their employees than to open up the dinning rooms.
Gov. Greg Abbott issued new executive orders on Monday that allow retail stores, restaurants and malls to re-open from Friday, May 1, provided they operate at 25 percent capacity.
“This strategic approach to opening the state of Texas prioritizes the health and safety of our communities and follows the guidelines laid out by our team of medical experts,” Abbott said.
“Now more than ever, Texans must remain committed to safe distancing practices that reduce the spread of COVID-19, and we must continue to rely on doctors and data to provide us with the safest strategies to restore Texans’ livelihoods. We must also focus on protecting the most vulnerable Texans from exposure to COVID-19. If we remain focused on protecting the lives of our fellow Texans, we can continue to open the Lone Star State.”
Abbott is moving too quickly, said U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez.
“I have not seen the statewide numbers flatten out to the point where we are ready to open up. I believe the governor is under a lot of pressure from the national and statewide business community to open up. But, I want to make sure that we are keeping people safe,” Gonzalez told reporters at a news conference in McAllen on Tuesday.
Gonzalez said he is “shocked” that people would say the price is worth it to get the economy moving again because most of those dying from COVID-19 are the elderly.
“We want to take care of our seniors, we want to take care of our parents and our grandparents. So, it is hard to believe we would right off a population of 65 and older as expendable. It is shocking to hear any leader say that.”
Gonzalez said he likes Gov. Abbott’s plan to phase in the re-opening restaurants and retail stores, starting with 25 percent capacity. He just thinks it has come too early.
“I think restaurants at 25 percent capacity, wearing protective gear, wearing facemarks, is probably the smart way to start getting things open. I do agree that a very slow process, a phase by phase opening, is the right way to do it. I personally would have waited another two weeks, maybe 30 days.”
Gonzalez said that from the official reports he received a few weeks ago, the most critical week for the Rio Grande Valley is the first week of May.
“The numbers (of positive cases of COVID-19) have not flattened to the point we would like. But, we are still doing much better than other parts around the country and most metropolitan areas. We may be on the right track but we just need to be very careful.”
Gonzalez said if there is an uptick in COVID-19-related cases or deaths, “we need to throttle back.”
He added: “We will need to make adjustments. That is the smart way to handle the reopening of our economy. If we see a spike in infections and fatalities, we need to draw back and wait until for the right time.”
Cameron County Jude Eddie Treviño, Jr., had a similar reaction to Gov. Abbott’s new executive orders as Congressman Gonzalez.
“I understand why he (Abbot) is doing it,” Treviño told Ron Whitlock Reports. “But, I am concerned about the timing and some of the aspects of his order. They leave me very concerned, would be a safe way to say it.”
Trevino said he would “definitely” have waited another week before allowing retail stores, restaurants and malls to re-open. Maybe even two more weeks.
“I think this would have been the safest route to take. Even following the guidelines and modeling that the White House is issuing, Texas, I don’t think, is quite ready for the phasing in of the businesses,” Treviño said.
“I understand the impact on our economy has been dramatic and serious and crippling and they want to try to at least slowly get back to work. On that part, at least, I am encouraged that he (Abbott) is doing it on a piecemeal basis for some of the industries.”
Treviño said he is particularly concerned about a “second wave” of COVID-19 cases, should the rules on social distancing lessen.
“I am concerned about a second wave, or a surge, will hit us, not just locally in the Valley but throughout the state,” he said.
“A second wave is a major concern, especially regarding the impact if could have on our medical facilities. We are going to keep an eye on that. We hope it does not happen but if it does, we hope the governor will be ready to reinstitute all those precautions and orders we had in place up until now.”
Treviño said he agreed with Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz that the South Texas border region has unique challenges in dealing with infectious diseases because of the proximity to Mexico.
He said a representative from the Governor of Tamaulipas’ office attended a recent news conference in Brownsville to explain new social distancing guidelines underway on the south side of the Rio Grande/Bravo.
“I wish that Mexico and Tamaulipas had gotten maybe on the same schedule or closer to our schedule, but in any event, I am glad they are doing it,” Treviño said.
“Mayor Saenz, an all the border leaders, are concerned that, because of the uniqueness of our location, that Mexico could have an impact on our numbers.”
Asked for any wrap-up remarks, Treviño told Ron Whitlock Reports:
“I would caution everyone and remind everyone that we are far from the end of this pandemic and even though people are stir crazy or have cabin fever, and many are ready to return to work, we all need to be mindful of the danger of this killer virus.
“We need to continue doing what we have been doing these past two months – personal hygiene, social distancing, shelter in place, only go out if necessary, and the use of facial coverings. These are the only tools we have right now to protect ourselves and slow down the spread of the virus.”
Local Rio Grande Valley restaurant, Wing Barn will not open Friday, May 1, despite Gov. Abbott’s permission to operate restaurants at 25 percent capacity. They will continue to offer curbside pick up, to-go, and delivery service.
“We’re not ready to open our dining rooms just yet,” said Bobby Saenz, Wing Barn owner.
“We are family-owned and operated. We consider our employees family. When we open, we want to feel 100 percent certain and right now we are still developing a plan to keep our employees and customers safe.”
Saenz said Wing Barn plans to “solidify” its safety plans, so that when Gov. Abbott opens restaurants to 50 percent capacity, they can open in store dining and service both in store and to-go/curbside customers safely.
Wing Barn is a locally owned, family business. Since 2010, Wing Barn has opened seven locations across the Rio Grande Valley, including in: Olmito, McAllen, Harlingen and Edinburg. Two more locations are scheduled to open in 2020 in San Juan and Weslaco.
In a guest column, Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz said the City of Laredo will comply, to the extent required, with Gov. Abbott’s order to gradually reopen Texas. He said city officials are working with public health and infectious disease experts to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 in the community.
“The restrictions on public gatherings are made to safeguard public health while we work on treating infected persons and further stopping the spread of the disease,” Mayor Saenz said.
“I understand the concern about damage being done to our economy. But the health and safety of ALL citizens must be valued above all else. We must be mindful of Laredo’s uniqueness in being a border city with Mexico and we must also be cognizant of the ongoing battle that we and our neighbor to the south have been fighting against COVID-19.”
Mayor Saenz said everybody wants this coronavirus crisis to be over quickly.
“But, we must act cautiously by following the science and the advice of our public health experts. Reopening too quickly risks a second wave of infections and jeopardizes the advances we have made to contain the virus,” he said.
“Saenz urged local residents to follow common sense prevention practices.
“Recently our health care capacity has been compromised by the onslaught of positive cases within our hospitals and medical providers,” he said.
“God forbid we have a spike in cases after we open up certain sectors of the economy on Friday.”
In the event that Laredo health matters worsen as a result of spikes in COVID-19 infections, Saenz said he expects Gov. Abbott and the State to “provide all necessary resources to help local governments deal with this pandemic.”
He added: “We have made several requests for assistance to the state and have yet to receive it. Our city, just like every other in the state, is in dire need of more testing kits and supplies.”
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