County health officials address stock show amid growing COVID-19 concerns

EDINBURG — Despite Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez issuing a statement Friday urging residents to avoid gatherings of more than 1,000 people, the Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show, which attracts hundreds of thousands of people annually, remains open to the public.

Cortez issued a statement Friday morning advising residents to avoid such gatherings and encouraging organizers of events that large to reconsider holding the event.

In 2018, the livestock show attracted 250,000 guests through its 11-day run.

Health and Human Services Coordinator Eddie Olivarez said Friday morning that there were no cases of COVID-19 in the county and that local officials had been in contact with RGV livestock show leadership.

“We have no confirmed cases in Hidalgo County — different than what it was in Houston, very different,” Olivarez said. “Currently, we are following the guidance from the state.”

Earlier this week, Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show Board President Mike Risica said the organization was taking cues from the Houston Livestock Show, indicating plans to have hand sanitizer available and signs encouraging people to wash their hands.

According to Olivarez, the county and the show’s board of directors have developed contingencies in case the situation changes.

“Since there is no case currently, we are working with them to have a backup plan in case we have our first case and then there’s an emergency declared. At that point, we would follow through on whatever procedures are necessary,” he said.

Olivarez said canceling the show would have significant economic repercussions.

“The essential nature is large for the city of Mercedes and Hidalgo County economics. It’s essential for the students,” he said. “A lot of people don’t know this, but thousands of students, thousands of students, rely on this because they have their animal projects that they’ve spent thousands of dollars on and this is the only place they may recoup their money and/or get scholarships to be able to go on to educations of higher learning.”

Meanwhile, events ranging in size from small to large-scale events in which as little as tens of thousands to as much as hundreds of thousands of dollars have been invested and are at stake — impacting vendors, performers, local stakeholders and promoters — have been canceling their events locally.

Locally, those events include Cirque du Soleili’s performances in Edinburg, the Edinburg UFO Festival, and the Home and Garden Show in McAllen.