Starr County order outlaws gatherings of 10 people or more

RIO GRANDE CITY — The Starr County Commissioners Court approved a provision Thursday outlawing gatherings more than 10 people as a way to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The provision is now included in the county’s emergency management plan and makes it an offense to violate the county’s disaster declaration, which was signed Wednesday by Starr County Judge Eloy Vera.

The consequences for not abiding by the 10-person limit is a fine of up to $1,000 or up to 180 days in jail.

“That applies to just about everybody,” Vera said Thursday. “What we’re trying to curtail is the virus from spreading in our community and in essence what CDC and even the president have recommended that groups of 10 or larger not be held.”

The few exceptions apply to grocery stores.

“Because those are essential for our people to continue getting their food and their necessities,” Vera said. “However, they’re going to be also instructed that they maintain the 6-feet separation, that they try and keep the crowds at a minimum — some to wait in the parking area — and those that are waiting, that they also maintain the 6-foot distance.”

Vera said this will likely be in effect for about 30 to 60 days at the most.

The move is not one he would have made were it not an emergency, Vera said, acknowledging the negative effect it will have on business, but he said his priority is the safety of the community.

“We’re trying to save as many lives as we can,” Vera said.

Down the road, a few months from now, Vera said the county will be judged on what steps they took, especially if the virus doesn’t spread in Starr County as it has elsewhere.

“If we did a lot of stuff, if we did a lot of things, we’re going to be criticized if we did all this stuff for nothing,” Vera said. “We’re praying that that is what happens because then that’s proof that we did a good job — we kept it from being as bad as it could’ve been.”