South Texas mayors sign disaster declarations for coronavirus; measures aim to stop price gouging

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EDINBURG, TEXAS (Border Report) — Mayors from 18 border cities in South Texas joined Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez on Tuesday afternoon in signing a public health-related disaster declaration, as well as committed to implement local regulations to limit crowd gatherings and price gouging as coronavirus inches closer to the region.

Webb County and the City of Laredo on Monday also issued disaster declarations after Laredo city officials confirmed on Monday a case of COVID-19 there. A coronavirus case also was reported across the border in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, though that case is in an area about 300 miles away.

On Tuesday morning, commissioners in Zapata County, which is halfway between Edinburg and Laredo, also signed a disaster declaration and urged residents not to congregate in groups over 10 people.

Mayors from throughout South Texas got together in the Hidalgo County Commissioners’ chambers on Tuesday afternoon — perhaps the last such large gathering of leaders for a while — and professed the need to be proactive to stem the spread of this deadly novel virus that causes COVID-19.

In signing the declaration, Cortez ordered public groups must be under 50 people for at least a week and he vowed the county would help to prevent price gouging of necessary items by setting price controls.

Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez is seen on March 16, 2020 in Hidalgo County Commissioner’s chambers in Edinburg, Texas. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

Prices cannot increase “more than the price the person charged for the goods or services on March 17, 2020,” the declaration read. This includes groceries, clothing, hygiene items, construction and building supplies, household goods and tools, automotive and plumbing parts, gasoline and diesel fuel, pharmaceuticals and medical equipment, apartment leases and hotel rooms, and restaurant meals. Violators face a fine up to $1,000 or 180 days in jail per incident.

“This is really a very historic day. I don’t believe this has ever happened in our county, in our history. Unfortunatey, this is a somber moment,” Cortez told elected officials from the cities and towns of McAllen, Palmview, Alton, Alamo, Donna, Edcouch, Edinburg, Elsa, Granjeño, Hidalgo, LaVilla, Mercedes, Mission, Palmhurst, Pharr, San Juan, Weslaco and LaJoya. “I’d like to congratulate and thank all of you for the support that you’ve given and to the efforts that you’ve dedicated.”

The wisdom of all of us is better than the wisdom of one.”

Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez

“This virus is a very contagious virus and spreads very quickly. The signing of this declaration puts all of our citizens on notice that it is serious and we want to take every precaution possible,” he said. “The wisdom of all of us is better than the wisdom of one.”

Cortez also sent a letter to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, which make Hidalgo County eligible for additional state resources.

“It’s easy to brush it off as not being important. The proof in the pudding is to look at where Europe is to where China is and that will definitely tell you what happens when you blow it off,” said Dr. Ambrosio Hernandez, a surgeon and mayor of Pharr. “The Rio Grande Valley is being very aggressive and that show pragmatic efforts from all of our leaders.”

Not all the leaders agreed, however. Alton Mayor Salvador Vela said “the media was to blame” for “hyping” and scaring the public. Vela said the solution “is to pray to God.”

“A lot of people in the United States are carriers and don’t exhibit symptoms but they have the virus and that’s how it spreads,” responded Hernandez, who is also health chief medical compliance officer for Doctors Hospital at Renaissance in Edinburg. He said amped up testing, which President Donald Trump this weekend promised will begin soon, should help to identify more cases “and then we’ll find out who truly has it and we’ll isolate you.”

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at

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