Across the country, as first responders working the front lines of pandemic response face heightened risk of contracting COVID-19 themselves, officials in one Rio Grande Valley city have taken that risk into account and have approved giving those first responders hazard pay. The Donna City Council unanimously approved temporary hazard pay for police officers and firefighters during an emergency meeting Friday. The council also amended an emergency executive order, extending it for an additional 30 days and tightening restrictions on residents. Donna will offer the hazard pay to 29 patrol officers and three firefighters for a period of six weeks, with an option to renew the special pay for another six weeks. Each of them will receive an additional $700 per month, the council decided. Read the full story at themonitor.com
Just one day after local officials announced that community spread of COVID-19 has begun in earnest in the Rio Grande Valley, state health officials...
Officials say there is now “clear evidence that community spread has begun” in Hidalgo County as 17 more people tested positive for COVID-19 Thursday, bringing the county’s total to 79. All 17 have been directed to self-isolate at home. Until now, the majority of the county’s COVID-19 cases could be traced to people who had traveled to regions with known infection. “But more recent cases suggest that clusters of new cases can now be traced to those people who had tested positive earlier,” according to a statement issued by the county Thursday evening. Officials have been telling residents for days that the number of COVID-19 cases would rise as more people continue to get tested. It’s something Hidalgo County Health Authority Dr. Ivan Melendez called a “natural evolution of the disease.” Read the full story at themonitor.com.
Two federal lawsuits against those involved in the construction of a private border wall south of Mission have become the latest court proceedings to be delayed by the coronavirus. Hearings in the two suits — one filed by the federal government on behalf of the International Boundary and Water Commission, and the second filed by the National Butterfly Center and its executive director, Marianna Treviño Wright — were slated to occur April 8, picking up where three sides left off in February. Instead, the hearings have been postponed for another month -- until May 6, according to court records. Read the full story at themonitor.com
With schools around the state closed until at least May 4 due to the coronavirus pandemic, educators have scrambled to keep students learning outside the classroom. From video chats, to take-home instructional packets, local schools have adapted to the new realities with aplomb. But not all students have equal access to technology or internet connectivity. To help bridge the gap, two Mid-Valley school districts have made drive-up Wi-Fi hotspots available for students who have a device — such as a laptop or tablet — but don’t have home access to the internet. Read the full story at themonitor.com.
Just two days after he issued a countywide “shelter at home” order, Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez is seeking scientific data to measure the effectiveness of the order in flattening the curve of COVID-19 infection locally. “I’m very concerned that I’m seeing much more cars than I was hoping to see,” Cortez said during a video-conference interview with The Monitor on Saturday. Cortez was speaking of the traffic he has continued to see after issuing the order Thursday in the county’s most stringent attempts yet to reduce the spread of the virus. Read the full story at themonitor.com
The status of how the coronavirus is impacting the Rio Grande Valley continues to change rapidly, sometimes from one hour to the next, with all four counties having reported positive cases as of Thursday. The following is a round-up of what’s changed as of Thursday evening. Read the full story at themonitor.com
Various court proceedings in two related federal bribery cases against former Weslaco public officials and local businessmen have been delayed due to the ongoing public health threat posed by the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19. The delays — which include motion hearings, as well as sentencing dates for three men who have pleaded guilty to participating in the multimillion dollar schemes — represent the continuing shift of the federal judiciary as it tries to grapple with the ongoing pandemic amid constitutional requirements that have thus far kept the courts open. The cases became public last March, when first Leonel Lopez Jr. — formerly the Rio Grande City municipal judge — pleaded guilty to federal programs bribery, followed a few days later by former Weslaco commissioner Gerardo “Jerry” Tafolla. Read the full story at themonitor.com
With eight Hidalgo County residents now having tested positive for the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19, Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez announced that a “shelter at home” order will go into effect countywide beginning Thursday night. The two-week order, which may be extended beyond its April 10 expiration date, marks the most stringent efforts by county leaders to slow the spread of the pathogen that is overwhelming hospital systems in hotspots such as New York City and New Orleans. Cortez said seeing how the disease is ravaging those communities has spurred him to take action here. Read the full story at themonitor.com.
A federal grand jury that was set to convene this week has been temporarily suspended as concerns over the swift-moving coronavirus continues to impact daily operations at all level of government. The decision came via an order signed last Friday by all three district judges who preside in the McAllen Division of the Southern District of Texas. U.S. District Judges Ricardo H. Hinojosa, Randy Crane and Micaela Alvarez unanimously ruled to temporarily stop the clock on grand jury proceedings, which are subject to the time limitations of the Speedy Trial Act of 1974. “The Court finds that failing to grant a continuance to exclude time under the Speedy Trial Act would result in a miscarriage of justice, and that a continuance is necessary to allow reasonable time for a quorum of the McAllen Division Grand Jury,” the order reads, in part. Read the full story at themonitor.com.