Fun-loving ‘Winter Texans’ can expect changes once back in region hit hard by coronavirus

Texas

Golf cart drive-thru happy hour and sunset viewing events among creative new outings for retirees in RGV

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — A shelter-in-place order on Monday was lifted for adults in Hidalgo County, but the county judge told Border Report that measures are still in place to protect vulnerable populations, like the elderly, from COVID-19, and to safely accommodate and welcome back retired Winter Texans who soon are expected to return to South Texas, and who come not only for the sun but for fun.

Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez lifted for adults countywide shelter-in-place orders that he had put into effect March 25 to prevent the spread of coronavirus. However, children ages 17 and younger still must remain at home unless “accompanied by a parent or guardian when participating in essential activities,” which include seeking medical care. He left in place an overnight curfew for everyone.

But his new orders also elaborate on indoor and outdoor gathering rules and coincide with the estimated arrival of thousands of Winter Texans who are known to amass in large groups and like to attend lively, nightly gatherings while they are here.

This photo hangs on the wall of the offices of Welcome Home Rio Grande Valley in McAllen, Texas, and shows several Winter Texans goofing around at a welcome back party. (Courtesy Photo)

“I just wanted to pay particular attention to Winter Texans because they’re traditionally coming in at this point in time and they are the most vulnerable population due to their age. We know many of them come here and need a lot of medical care and so we want to make sure that every RV park takes precautions,” Cortez said Monday. “They like to come and square dance and have fun and have fellowship with people but we need them to do it safely: Have physical distance, sanitize all the areas, try to not go to other nursing homes and parks and try to have no visitors coming from outside.”

Kristi Collier is owner of Welcome Home Rio Grande Valley, which plans activities for retired Winter Texans and those living in South Texas permanently. She is seen on Sept. 14, 2020, in her McAllen, Texas, office. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

Kristi Collier, owner of Welcome Home Rio Grande Valley — which is starting its 13th season organizing activities for Winter Texans and permanent retirees called “converted Texans” — said most RV parks already have imposed mandatory 14-day quarantine periods for arriving residents. They also are not admitting guests from other parks, will hold curbside meal pickups instead of buffet dinners, and are restructuring indoor activities to outdoor events that still foster a fun-loving environment, but do so safely.

“They’re coming up with creative ways to practice social distancing and still have opportunities for our Winter Texans to participate in different things,” Collier said from her offices in McAllen. “We’re gearing up and it’s such an interesting time.”

Activities like golf, tennis, shuffle board and swimming will still continue, albeit folks should expect to be further spaced apart. But in addition some new and unique activities have started being implemented at the area’s 300 RV parks, and many involve golf carts to maintain social distancing, she said. This includes:

  • Some parks are hosting golf cart parades and golf cart movie nights.
  • One RV park in the town of Mercedes is hosting nightly sunset golf cart events where residents view the glowing South Texas sun as it goes down from atop a dirt levee in their golf carts.
  • Victoria Palms RV Resort, in the town of Donna, recently hosted a concert by a popular musician who performed atop the back of a flatbed truck as it drove through the large RV park.
  • Another park recently held a golf cart drive-thru happy hour.

The Winter Texan season officially begins on Nov. 1. However, during the presidential election years, most retirees wait to return to South Texas until after the elections, Collier said.

“It’s going to be an interesting season,” Collier said.

Kristi Collier, center, is seen with a group of Winter Texans in this photo that hangs in her McAllen offices of Welcome home Rio Grande Valley. (Courtesy Photo)

Canadian Winter Texans, however, won’t be returning as long as border restrictions remain on the northern and Southwestern borders. Canadians retirees make up about 15% of the 100,000 Winter Texans who come each year to the RGV. Collier said that many have reached out to her and are planning to come, perhaps mid-winter, if the Trump administration lifts restrictions . The restrictions are currently in place until Sept. 21

Community leaders agree that this group of part-time residents add a tremendous boost to the local economy and businesses rely on them returning year after year.

A 2017-18 survey on Winter Texans in the RGV by the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley found the average age of Winter Texans who come to South Texas is 72 years old; 57% are female; 84% are married; 97% are Caucasian; and their annual household income is $64,500. Most come from the states of Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, Michigan and Nebraska, and 14% came from Canada.

“Removing the shelter-in-place orders is huge for our winter Texans because they want to be able to come down and enjoy the Valley and the outdoor activities that they can.”

Kristi Collier, owner of Welcome Home Rio Grande Valley

“Winter Texans are very crucial to our Rio Grande Valley economy so after going through a slow summer everyone is anxious to see the return of our Winter Texans,” Collier said. “Removing the shelter-in-place orders is huge for our winter Texans because they want to be able to come down and enjoy the Valley and the outdoor activities that they can.”

A man rides a bicycle at the Texas Trails RV Resort where a woman drives around in a golf cart and wearing a mask on Sept. 14, 2020, in Pharr, Texas. (Border Report Photos/Sandra Sanchez)

Seventy-year-old Linda Sauer and her husband, Fred, said Monday that they were planning to head down in mid-November from Kansas City, Missouri, to their Winter Ranch RV Resort park in Alamo, Texas, “and are monitoring the situation closely right now.”

Hidalgo County currently has the second-most fatalities of any county in the Lone Star State with 1,409 deaths, including 28 over the weekend.

But Sauer said infection rates are currently about the same in South Texas as Kansas City where they have been sequestered in their home since April. “So we can sit in our home in Kansas City where the weather is freezing, or sit in our home in Texas where it’s sunny and warm.”

Cortez told Border Report the relaxing of county orders reflect a decline in daily cases but are also intended to keep folks vigilant about the dangers of coronavirus, especially the elderly.

“My goal was to make sure that everybody recognizes we have a special group of visitors who fall under that vulnerable category,” Cortez said. “And they are very important to us.”

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.

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