Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez extended an emergency order and issued stricter guidelines Tuesday to help curb the spread of COVID-19, including ordering the use of face masks, extending a curfew to minors and limiting the amount of people traveling inside vehicles.
Cortez’s mandate comes as the Rio Grande Valley mourns the deaths of two people who died after contracting COVID-19.
“I have been relying on health experts at the local, state and national level and all of them suggest this disease will continue to spread exponentially over the next few weeks,” Cortez said in a news release announcing the changes. “My objective in issuing these new orders is to slow that spread in Hidalgo County so we save lives, we don’t overwhelm our healthcare providers and we protect our frontline personnel.”
Starting at midnight Tuesday, everyone 3-years-old and older will be required to wear a face covering while outdoors, except while driving or exercising. That rule also extends to buildings open to the public, business parking lots, public transportation, and when pumping gas.
Restaurant workers must also wear facial coverings when providing take-out, drive-through or delivering food.
County officials suggested using homemade masks, scarves, bandanas or handkerchiefs, but discouraged the use of medical grade masks. Those should be reserved for medical personnel, the order indicates.
“To strengthen the existing shelter-at-home order, Judge Cortez has issued a 24-hour curfew for all people under age 17,” Hidalgo County spokesman Carlos Sanchez said during a Facebook live video Tuesday. “And unless they are under the supervision of an accompanied parent or guardian, that person will not be allowed on the streets.”
The only exception to that rule is if the minor is involved in an essential activity or in an emergency.
Everyone else should abide by a curfew that now begins at 11 p.m. and ends at 5 a.m., Sanchez indicated.
Cortez also ordered child care centers to only look after the children of essential employees, and said the businesses must adhere to a rule that only allows 10 people per room.
All businesses in unincorporated areas will also be expected to adopt work safe measures, incorporating good hygiene and the 6-foot physical distance rule.
Residents must also abide by new travel rules.
“To the extent possible, vehicle travel should be limited to two occupants for essential business and to four occupants per vehicle for healthcare functions, government functions, retail services and critical infrastructure,” the county’s news release stated.
And lastly — but perhaps most importantly — anyone that tests positive for COVID-19 will have to have their entire household isolated at home.
“If a healthcare provider orders a patient to isolate at home pending the results of a COVID-19 test, then all family members must isolate at home as well,” county officials added.