South Texas border county judge opposes lifting mask mandate

Border Report

Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez is opposing the reopening of Texas amidst still-high COVID-19 rates in his border community of South Texas. (Courtesy Photo)

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Within an hour of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announcing that next week he will lift the mask mandate and reopen all businesses at 100%, a county judge in a border area hard hit by coronavirus criticized the order.

Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez (Courtesy Photo)

Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez said Tuesday afternoon that reopening the state at this rate would be “moving too quickly,” especially in this community on the U.S.-Mexico border that was hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic last summer.

“I appreciate Gov. Abbott’s desire to return to normalcy, but I remain concerned that, at least in Hidalgo County, we may be moving too quickly. We only fell below the high hospitalization threshold a week ago, which suggests we are on the right path in combating the spread of this disease, but I would hate to see a rise in case numbers if people begin to relax caution – particularly as it relates to the removal of the mask mandate.”

During a speech in Lubbock on Tuesday, Abbott announced he would “reopen Texas 100%.” And he ordered a statewide mask mandate to be lifted by March 10.

But a county judge, like Cortez, still can impose certain mitigation ordinances if local COVID-19 hospitalizations rise above 15% for seven or more consecutive days. But the order would not be enforceable by jail time, Abbott said.

Cortez says the county just dipped below that mark last week and he believes it is far too soon to test the health of the local population.

For months, Hidalgo County had been ranked second or third-highest fatality rates from COVID-19. On Tuesday, it was listed sixth, just below El Paso County, on the state’s Health and Human Services website that tracks daily coronavirus rates.

In July, deaths peaked and bodies were being stacked in trailers parked along roads in Hidalgo County. Hospitals and ICU beds were full and many patients were treated in hallways and break rooms turned into makeshift treatment rooms.

There were seven deaths reported Tuesday from COVID-19 and 390 new cases, bringing the total number of fatalities to 2,645 and total cases to 77,702 since the pandemic began last March, the county reported.

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