Stock show to stay open despite county’s urgent call for cancellations 

Visitors enjoy themselves in one of the many rides and attractions at the Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show on Saturday, Mar. 9, 2019, in Mercedes. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

MERCEDES — Representatives from the Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show say the event will continue as planned despite Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez urging cancellations to virtually all aspects of the show.

In a letter addressed to stock show general manager Armando Correa on Friday, Cortez asked Correa and the event’s board of directors to strongly consider the cancellation of all live entertainment, including the rodeo, live music and performances, the carnival, parade, opening ceremonies and associated festivities.

The letter also urged the board to halt all food and beverage sales with the exception of sealed containers, along with the closing of all non-agricultural retail, including the exhibit hall, clothing and novelties.

Finally, the judge requested the board impose serious limitations to spectators and non-participant entry onto the grounds.

“These recommendations are not made lightly and I recognize the tremendous impact this will have,” Cortez wrote in the letter. “However, given recent developments and what we are learning about the spread of the virus it is imperative that we all do our part to protect the public health and welfare of residents and visitors of Hidalgo County.”

Speaking about the letter Friday evening, Board President Mike Risica said the show had not decided to cancel or alter the show in response to the letter.

“The letter is a recommendation from the county. Only a recommendation. We are going to take it into consideration but at this time, the livestock show is moving forward with the events that we have already planned,” he said. “Nothing at this point has changed.”

Risica noted that there have still not been any confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Valley, but  said that if there was a confirmed case the board would review the matter. He also noted that the show had taken measures to prevent any potential spread of disease at the event.

“We put out all the hand washing stations, the gel things, we’re cleaning our restrooms constantly, we’re wiping down rails. We’ve told our employees if they’re sick not to come to work, we’ve told ag. Teachers and 4-H teachers if their kids are sick do not let them come. We’re doing everything proactive,” Risica said.

Cortez acknowledged that the show had worked with the county on the matter to an extent, and said he sympathized with their position.

“None of us like this, none of us like this at all, but we have to be very careful because we know that this virus spreads very rapidly and we have to take every precaution possible,” he said.

Cortez said that an advisory he issued Friday morning cautioning residents to avoid crowds of 1,000 or more people certainly applied to the stock show. In 2018, the show attracted 250,000 guests through its 11-day run.

“We’re trying to work with them and we understand their financial obligations, but again, we can replace money lost but we can’t replace any loss of life, so we all know that one of the mitigation strategies to have is avoid large crowds,” he said.

Speaking Friday morning, Hidalgo County Health and Human Services Coordinator Eddie Olivarez indicated that a confirmed case locally could cause the county to take more drastic measures.

“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 for local communities and hurt children showing animals at the event.

“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.”

mwilson@themonitor.com