County looks to boost enforcement of stay-home orders

Hidalgo County officials are scrambling to find ways to keep residents at home as they warn of a possible onslaught of COVID-19 cases.

Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez said he is concerned not enough people are following a shelter-at-home order he issued last week to combat the pandemic.

“We know there is a tsunami coming,” Cortez said in a news release Tuesday. “It hasn’t hit us yet. If there is anything we can do to mitigate this, it is stronger enforcement on the orders.”

That enforcement now includes police checkpoints across various municipalities in Hidalgo County. Some officers have already begun issuing citations, while others efforts remain in the planning process.

“I have asked each Commissioner to work with their respective municipal partners to request assistance for the enforcement of the county’s Shelter-at-Home Order, along with efforts that the cities have undertaken for items such as work-safe requirements,” Cortez said.

The consensus among community leaders seems to be that too many people remain on the roads even after the 10 p.m. curfew.

“What we need to do today is educate our people to ask themselves what they consider essential,” Cortez said. “We must stop being outside for any reason. Don’t risk it.”

In McAllen, traffic was down nearly 70% along two major intersections on Nolana Avenue this past weekend, but it’s not enough, officials said.

“I think we would all agree that traffic may have slowed, but not to the levels we had hoped,” the county judge said.

In just 10 days after the first person in Hidalgo County learned she tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, there have been 45 other cases confirmed. Three have required hospitalization and no deaths have been reported locally.

But overwhelming the local healthcare system is a real threat, Cortez said, especially because the county has a disproportionate rate of diabetes that makes the population even more vulnerable to the disease.

“There is a tipping point when our health care will be overwhelmed,” he said. “We have to avoid reaching that tipping point.”

On Tuesday, Hidalgo County Commissioners approved a $500,000 transfer from the rainy day fund to pay for emergency response operations connected to the coronavirus. The funds will be used for repairs, maintenance, general supplies and equipment, officials said.

“Obviously we are in a very difficult time,” Cortez said. “It’s a huge undertaking to establish the controls we are trying to establish in a county of over a million people to keep ahead of this disease.”