McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Leaders of two South Texas border counties on the U.S.-Mexico border have announced a shelter-in-place lockdown starting Wednesday in Cameron County, and an overnight curfew starting tonight in Hidalgo County to stop COVID-19.

The Cameron County rule applies to all non-essential workers, but ensures vital government, health care, trade and commerce, including the delivery of food and groceries, to continue. Otherwise, residents are ordered to “shelter in place” to prevent the spread of coronavirus, which causes the novel deadly virus COVID-19, according to the emergency order.

“It is necessary to ensure that the maximum number of people self-isolate in their places of residence to the maximum extent feasible, while enabling essential services to continue,” the order reads.

This order — which is in effect for 14 days — supersedes a previous emergency order by Cameron County officials over the weekend to impose overnight curfews starting Wednesday from midnight to 5 a.m.

Cameron County is home to the popular South Padre Island beach, where officials last week had trouble getting Spring Breakers to stop congregating in public, despite an emergency order they issued limiting public gatherings to less than 10 people.

Read a Border Report story on Spring Breakers in South Texas despite COVID-19.

The order also came just hours after Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez on Monday afternoon announced that his county, which is west of Cameron, would also enact a countywide curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. beginning tonight.

“This emergency order is intended to put some temporary controls over our citizens, over our businesses and government, which sole purpose is to limit the spreading of this vicious virus,” Cortez said in a news conference that was held online to adhere to a countywide rule enacted last week forbidding gatherings of more than 10 people. “I come to you with a heavy heart and a huge burden but nevertheless a very important one because all the actions we have taken, to date, affect many lives of our citizens.”

This emergency order is intended to put some temporary controls over our citizens, over our businesses and government, which sole purpose is to limit the spreading of this vicious virus.”

Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez

The announcement followed a weekend where COVID-19 cases spiked in South Texas. Hidalgo County, which is home to 22 municipalities including McAllen, announced two positive cases of the disease caused by the coronavirus. Cameron County officials confirmed that four people have tested positive. Many others have since been tested in the counties and results are pending, the leaders said.

Read a Border Report story on COVID-19 cases spiking over the weekend.

On Sunday, Hidalgo County Commissioners held an emergency meeting and approved the curfew order, which is in effect until April 5. They also approved the following countywide restrictions:

  • No social gatherings of 10 or more people, including conferences, festivals, parades, concerts, sporting events, weddings, flea markets and dining in restaurants.
  • Temporary closure of all schools, fitness clubs, barbershops, nail and hair salons, massage and tattoo parlors, tanning salons, movie theaters, bowling alleys and malls and retail stores that do not sell “essential household goods.”
  • All non-essential court matters and hearings will be suspended and all county-related travel is halted.
  • Parks will remain open “so long as the necessary precautions are maintained by public visitors to reduce transmission of COVID-19.”
  • In addition, all county fees are waived for 30 days and evictions forbidden.

“Places like gyms, spas, barbershops and salons are luxuries and unfortunately the human interactions is too great to justify the risk of increased transmission,” Cortez said in a video posted on the county’s website. “We are asking residents to remain at home between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. These hours represent the peak hours for social gatherings. This move will lessen the load on the local heroes who continue to serve us during this challenge.”

Violators face a $1,000 fine and up to 180 days in jail, Hidalgo County Sheriff Eddie Guerra said.

Guerra recognized that “some educating of the public” would be needed at first, but then any peace officer — state troopers, sheriff’s deputies, police officers, school district and university police, district attorney investors, fire marshal investigators and constables — “can enforce the order county-wide,” he said Monday.

Latitude is given to maintain trade and commerce and necessary movement for jobs, Cortez said.

“If it’s necessary for you to do it. If it’s not life-threatening for you to do: Do it. Go out and do the things you have to do. But if it’s not necessary then don’t. It’s that simple,” he said.

Health officials have indicated the coronavirus pandemic could last several months.

“I am a man of faith and I know we will get through this together,” Cortez said.

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