Berenice Garcia

Berenice Garcia covers Western Hidalgo County and Starr County for The Monitor. She can be reached at or (956) 683-4432.

In COVID-19 ravaged America, Starr County emerges as a curve-flattening standard

It seemed like almost every local official had squeezed into the student activity center of the South Texas College Starr County campus on this particular March afternoon, when the affects of the coronavirus still seemed mostly theoretical in the Rio Grande Valley. That same day, the Texas Department of State Health Services confirmed the first case of COVID-19 in the state. Starr County officials knew then that it was only a matter of time before the disease reached their community, they said before a packed room, so it was crucial to start formulating a plan. Later that month, the county received confirmation of their first cases of COVID-19. Less than a month later, all those cases — with the exception of two that were reported just this week — were cleared. Read the full story at

DSHS warns most cases include people of working age as businesses re-open

On the day that businesses statewide began to open back up, health officials warned that the majority of cases in the region were of working-age people. About 70% of the cases in the area range between the ages of 20 and 59, according to Dr. Emilie Prot, regional medical director of the Texas Department of State Health Services’ Region 11. Region 11 encompasses 19 counties in South Texas, from north of Corpus Christi to Laredo and down to Brownsville. Read the full story at

New details shed light on Starr County’s latest case

The categorization of Starr County’s latest case of COVID-19 as travel-related has led to questions about how the individual contracted the disease. After Starr County officials announced their ninth case of COVID-19 via a post on social media, an individual purporting to be a family member of the patient disputed that it was a travel-related case and claimed the patient had been hospitalized at McAllen Medical Center. Dr. Jose Vazquez, the Starr County health authority, confirmed that their latest case — a Rio Grande City woman in her late 60s — was hospitalized at McAllen Medical Center when she tested positive for COVID-19. Read the full story at

Starr County judge urges safety measures despite Abbott’s order

After Gov. Greg Abbott gave certain businesses the green light to re-open at a limited capacity, Starr County Judge Eloy Vera urged local businesses and the public to continue abiding by county guidelines they had issued to prevent the spread of COVID-19 despite the inability of local governments to enforce them. During a virtual meeting held Wednesday, Vera said he would be issuing a letter to businesses in the county requesting that they continue to take measures addressing the COVID-19 threat including requiring customers to wear face coverings. The executive order signed by Abbott on April 27, allows retail stores, dine-in restaurants theaters, and shopping malls to open at 25% capacity. Read the full story at

Demand at La Joya Housing Authority food pantry surges in April

As the need for resources grew in line with the shutdown of businesses due to the threat of COVID-19, demand at the La Joya Housing Authority’s food pantry also more than tripled from March to April. In March, the food pantry had 42 clients but following the measures enacted to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, that number increased by nearly four times as many to 159. “It’s no secret that the demand for food has been extraordinary in our area of western Hidalgo County,” said Ruben O. Villarreal, executive director of the La Joya Housing Authority, told the board of commissioners during a meeting Tuesday. Read the full story at

Starr County reports its 8th COVID-19 case

Starr County received confirmation of its eighth positive case of COVID-19 on Monday, its first confirmed case in three weeks. The individual who tested positive is a Rio Grande City man in his mid-30s, according to Dr. Jose Vazquez, the county's health authority, who added the case was travel-related. Read the full story at

Man accused of assaulting officer at Starr County jail

A man previously convicted of attempting to distribute marijuana was charged this week with assaulting a federal officer while detained at the Starr County jail. Jose Humberto Ordonez, 24, made his initial appearance in federal court Thursday before U.S. Magistrate Judge J. Scott Hacker on allegations he assaulted a federal officer on Tuesday, the day before his scheduled sentencing on a drug trafficking charge. The government claims Ordonez, a federal detainee at the Starr County Detention Center in Rio Grande City, attacked a sergeant by "repeatedly striking him in the face," according to the criminal complaint. Read the full story at

Kickback allegations land Mission clinic owner, sister in jail 

The owner and operator of a Mission clinic and his sister were arrested on healthcare fraud charges earlier this week for allegedly running a kickback scheme involving two other pharmacies. Julian Ybarra Jr. owned and operated Rysty Enterprises Inc., a business that operated under the name Mission Wellness Center, according to the court records which identify Krystal Lee Ybarra as his sister. Both were charged on Tuesday with a count of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud, nine counts of healthcare fraud, two counts of aggravated identity theft, and conspiracy to pay and receive illegal remunerations. Read the full story at

RGC city secretary’s grievance alleges rifts in administration

A grievance filed by the city secretary for Rio Grande City alleges a commissioner attempted to dissuade her from following the directives of the city manager, potentially giving credence to alleged political rifts in the administration. City Secretary Lyzette Peña, who is currently on administrative leave, filed the grievance against City Commissioner Dave “Chachi” Jones and another city employee whom she accused of spreading rumors about her. Peña said she confronted Jones in May 2019, asking if he had problems with her performance, but he denied spreading any rumors about her, according to a copy of the grievance obtained by The Monitor through a public information request. Read the full story at

Rep. Muñoz granted jury trial in malpractice suit

The question of how much state Rep. Sergio Muñoz will have to pay in a malpractice suit will be put before a jury after a federal judge granted his request for a jury trial last week. U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez ordered the jury trial, which will be the second trial held in the case, to assess how much in damages Muñoz owes to Law Funder LLC, a New Jersey-based company. Muñoz was previously ordered to pay nearly $3 million in damages to Law Funder, but a ruling by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals voided the $2.9 million judgment. Read the full story at