McALLEN, TEXAS (Border Report) — Despite Texas Gov. Greg Abbott today lifting statewide coronavirus restrictions allowing restaurants and other areas to reopen with some modifications, many leaders on the state’s Southwest border are urging their residents not to go out and to remain vigilant against the disease as Mexico’s cases continue to rise.

From the West Texas city of El Paso to Hidalgo County in South Texas, many community leaders are suggesting residents continue to shelter in place, go out when only absolutely necessary and wear face masks in public. Even though they are legally limited from enforcing these suggestions, border leaders warn that as COVID-19 cases rise in Mexico’s northern states — and not expected to peak there until mid-May — Texans on the border face heightened challenges and should remain cautious.

The irony, many border leaders say, is that Texas is loosening restrictions just as Mexico is imposing more rules to prevent the deadly virus, which has largely gone unchecked in many Mexican towns. Mexico has extended its shelter-in-place orders through the end of May, just as Texas officials lift theirs.

Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez. (Courtesy Hidalgo County, Texas)

“The reason we want to be cautious is because we are on the border and we have frequent visitors come and go from Mexico. Arguably, their mitigation in Mexico is different than ours so we want to make sure we take extra precautions,” Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez told Border Report on Friday morning.

Cortez on Thursday issued an amended order recommending the county’s 1 million residents continue to shelter in place, wear face masks, not gather in groups over 10, and abide by the precautionary measures that have been in place for the past month in this largest South Texas county. The order was issued just hours before Abbott’s statewide lessening of restrictions took effect at midnight on Friday, allowing restaurants, retailers, movie theaters, libraries and museums to open at 25% capacity.

And although he said Hidalgo County law enforcement no longer has the authority to issue fines, Cortez strongly hopes his community — across the Rio Grande from Reynosa, Mexico, in the state of Tamaulipas — will heed his warnings.

“There are people who are essential workers who come back and forth and they could bring the disease with them and we all need to be careful,” Cortez said. “Everything we’re doing is to protect them so if they know how to protect themselves what better way of doing this than everybody cooperating? This is a time to not only think about ourselves but everyone. This is a health emergency and we can win this war we just need to use the tools to mitigate it.”

If they know how to protect themselves what better way of doing this than everybody cooperating?”

Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez

The northern Mexico state of Tamaulipas, which stretches over 200 miles from Nuevo Laredo, across from Laredo, Texas, to the Gulf of Mexico, has been criticized for not doing enough testing or reporting of coronavirus cases.

This past week, the state showed a noticeable uptick in its reporting of cases and its warnings to Mexican citizens to stay indoors. As of Thursday evening, the Tamaulipas Ministry of Health reported 516 cases and 23 deaths. There were 34 new cases on Thursday alone, seven in Matamoros, which is across from Brownsville, Texas, and three in Nuevo Laredo.

Tamaulipas is not expected to peak with cases until mid-May, Francisco Galvan, an adviser to Tamaulipas Gov. Francisco García Cabeza de Vaca, told Border Report earlier this week.

Last week, officials in Tamaulipas increased mandatory precautions against COVID-19, limiting the number of passengers in vehicles and people in grocery stores, not allowing the elderly or pregnant women out in public, and requiring facial coverings to be worn in public spaces.

Read a Border Report story on stricter rules in Tamaulipas.

Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz has warned residents to stay indoors despite Texas reopening businesses on May 1, 2020. (Border Report File Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

Officials in Laredo and Webb County, Texas, have repeatedly said that regardless of Abbott’s re-opening of the state, they believe local residents should not venture out in public unless absolutely necessary. And the city’s overnight curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. remains in effect, officials said Friday.

“Today is the day that the governor’s orders take effect and we want to remind our citizens that the city’s orders remain in effect until the 30th of May, and so as you begin to see the movement in the community, I ask that the community remain aware that the level of protection we need to take is incumbent on us as individuals for your protection and the people around you. It’s important that we continue these measures,” Laredo Fire Chief Steve Landin, who heads emergency operations, said in a videoconference with media on Friday afternoon.

Laredo, with just 250,000 residents, has been struggling with a high rate of COVID-19 cases and deaths. As of Friday, there were 368 cases and 16 deaths.

“It’s important that we continue all preventative measures especially as these new orders were done by the governor. We still want everyone to cover faces, stay at home, heightened sanitation,” City of Laredo Health Department Director Dr. Hector Gonzalez added.

“We have to be mindful of the experiences we’ve had and where we are situated, located here at the border. Our neighbor to the south, Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, is undergoing now some of the horrible experiences this COVID-19 can bring and we’ve had our share here,” Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz said earlier this week. “I worry about opening too too soon because we’ve had bouts with this COVID-19 affecting our doctors, nurses, first-responders. We’re kind of getting over that but that’s not to say we won’t have a spike in the future. If we do I certainly hope the governor and the state will be with us side by side battling it.”

We’re kind of getting over that but that’s not to say we won’t have a spike in the future. If we do I certainly hope the governor and the state will be with us side by side battling it.”

Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz

The timing of today’s statewide reopening in Texas couldn’t be worse, border leaders from the mountains of West Texas to the Gulf Coast shores, as well as Mexican officials, say.

“Mexico not expected to see a peak in cases until mid-May so these next two weeks will be real important for us,” Patricio Sampayo of Centro Medico Internacional, the largest hospital in Matamoros, said Thursday in a telephone town hall conference call facilitated by U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Texas.

“There has been a lack of testing capacity in Mexico and specifically along the border,” said Sampayo, who added the country is aggressively working to earmark, treat and isolate more cases.

He said that health leaders were worried that residents would not follow orders to stay indoors, but says the great majority are abiding. And that the closing of maquiladoras, factories south of the border, has contributed to helping curtail the virus.

This file photo shows workers of TECMA, a cross-border plant (maquiladoras) in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state. The company has about 3,000 employees and gives its services to more than 25 clients of the world. (Jesus Alcazar/AFP via Getty Images)

In Ciudad Juarez, across from El Paso, there has been pressure placed on Mexican maquiladoras to reopen to restart the production of components needed by U.S. industries. But Dr. Arturo Valenzuela, head of the Chihuahua state Health Department, told Border Report that the factories should not feel forced to open their doors during this deadly pandemic.

Juarez on Thursday reported 30 new cases of COVID-19 and nine new deaths

“As much as they need our industry — our maquilas and our commerce — we cannot and we should not, responsibly, open non-essential activities because we’re on the most difficult part of the pandemic,” Valenzuela said.

Read a Border Report story on Juarez fighting US pressure to reopen maquilas

El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego on Thursday evening issued new amended orders that were strongly worded still prohibiting citizens from gathering in groups and ordering facial coverings worn. However, his order acknowledges that the county has no authority to issue fines to citizens who do not comply.

“WHEREAS, the County Judge hereby clarifies that all public or private gatherings occurring
outside a single household or single-family living unit remain prohibited unless specifically exempted under this Order; and face coverings are mandated but civil or criminal penalties will not be imposed on individuals for failure to wear a face covering,” Samaniego’s orders read.

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