Texas County First in Nation to Issue Second Stay-at-Home Order

The first shelter-at-home order issued in the pandemic's resurgence in the U.S. took effect Wednesday morning in the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas, an overwhelmingly Latino region that has been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus.

July 23, 2020, 11:00 AM PDT

By Irvin Dawid

Mission, Texas

Workers construct a privately funded wall on the U.S.-Mexico border in Mission, in Hidalgo County, Texas, in January 2020. | Vic Hinterlang / Shutterstock

"As a response to the surge of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the Rio Grande Valley, Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez enacted a shelter-at-home order Monday, mandating residents to remain at home, obey curfews and wear facial coverings in public," reported Colleen DeGuzman for the McAllen,Texas-based Monitor that covers Starr and Hidalgo counties. The two-week order ends on midnight, August 5.

"Our rise in numbers and fatalities says that we need to take action now and do what’s in the best interest of our community,” Cortez said in a news release [pdf]. “This action will help us do the right thing to save and protect each other from this deadly disease by sheltering at home.”

According to Data USA, the two largest ethnic groups in Hidalgo County are white Hispanic, 80.8%, and "some other race Hispanic," 10.2%. The poverty rate is 31.8%.

"Black and Latino people have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus in a widespread manner that spans the country, throughout hundreds of counties in urban, suburban and rural areas, and across all age groups," notes a post earlier this month based on new data that the New York Times obtained after suing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Highest seven-day death toll in state

Hidalgo County, with almost 870,000 people, is the eighth most populous of the 254 counties in the state and has the sixth most coronavirus cases, just over 13,000 on July 22, according to the New York Times Texas Coronavirus Map and Case Count. Within the last seven days, it recorded the fourth highest cases, 4,533.

It has the third most total deaths, 367. During the last seven days, it recorded the most deaths, 184, among any county, and the fourth highest per 100,000 people.

State preemption: No enforcement of order

"It is highly encouraged and recommended that all commercial businesses operating within Hidalgo County, except essential covered businesses should cease all activities at facilities that may not be provided by curbside, drive-through, or take-out services," states the five-page order [pdf]. In fact, the entire order is technically not enforceable, reports Sarah R. Champagne for The Texas Tribune on July 20.

Under Gov. Abbott's current statewide orders, local governments cannot enforce their own stay-at-home orders, as Abbott allowed them to do in the early stages of the pandemic. Then, Abbott said he was confident that local officials would make the best decisions for their communities in responding to the virus.

“This order has no enforcement mechanism, which makes it simply a recommendation for those to stay home if they can, which Governor Abbott supports," Abbott spokesman John Wittman said late Monday. "However, this order does not force businesses to shut down in the Rio Grande Valley."

The one area where there appears to be agreement between the governor and the county judge is the issue of mask-wearing enforcement. Like the governor's executive order of July 2, the county order calls for a second violation to be "punishable by fine not to exceed $250."

For more detailed data, see Hidalgo County COVID-19 Dashboard and Texas COVID-19 Data.

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