EDINBURG, TEXAS (Border Report) — As the number of COVID-19 cases dramatically increased in South Texas on Wednesday, Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez ordered all residents in this county that borders Mexico to shelter in place until April 10 starting Thursday night.

Cortez signed an 11-page order on Wednesday afternoon that mandates residents stay in their homes around the clock with a few exceptions. People may travel only for essential business such as seeking medical help or going to the grocery store, to perform essential government functions, and to help and care for others. They may also exercise outdoors but must be cognizant of social-distancing guidelines and stay 6 feet away from others.

“This coronavirus is a serious matter and we’re taking it seriously,” Cortez said via a video news conference from the commissioner’s court chambers. “We’re trying to get people who do not provide essential services to stay at home and this is the best way to stop the spreading of the disease.”

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The county, which is the largest in South Texas, went to lockdown after implementing an overnight curfew earlier in the week, and after days of imploring residents to stay indoors and to not needlessly be exposed to the coronavirus.

But many did not heed warnings and county health officials and Cortez said this latest measure is necessary for the public’s safety.

The lockdown follows a similar order issued in neighboring Cameron County. Willacy County has enacted a nighttime curfew.

“We do know how to stop this virus. We do know how to stop the spread. We do it with limited social gatherings and separation,” Cortez said.

Those who fail to stay indoors face fines of $1,000 and 180 days in jail Hidalgo County Sheriff Eddie Guerra said.

The number of COVID-19 cases in the county jumped to eight on Wednesday afternoon and included: four cases in the county’s largest city of McAllen; two cases in the town of Mission and one case each in the towns of Edinburg and Alamo. None are hospitalized and are all self-isolating at home, Hidalgo County Health and Human Services Chief Administrative Officer Eddie Olivarez said.

“There is no way we can approach this war, this battle without incurring some hardship. We can’t,” Cortez said. “Americans and especially people here in the Rio Grande Valley and people in Hidalgo County always rise to the occasion. When something needs to be done we come together and we get it done. This is the time to put aside our self interests for the greater good.”

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