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County judges struggle to encourage Valley residents to practice safety guidelines with no penalty

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Mask, social distancing, isolation — these things the country has been familiar with the last couple of months are no longer required. It’s not because the threat of the coronavirus disappeared, but county leaders in the Rio Grande Valley worry that’s the impression many are getting.

“I feel right now, it’s a lot more dangerous than it was two months ago. Because now we know that a lot more people are infected,” said Starr County Judge Eloy Vera.

Vera and other leaders in the Valley think the odds of residents getting sick are greater now than when everyone was home. People are abiding by shelter-in-place orders. Those are gone.

“The governor specifically, specifically prohibits us from taking any of that action,” stressed Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez.

Cortez says they can’t order anyone to be safe. It’s a struggle to encourage people to adhere to something that no longer has a penalty.

“The other thing was the fear factor. ‘If I don’t follow the order, I could be fined.’ That was taken away from us,” said Judge Vera.

Now, officials can only make recommendations.

In Starr County, Judge Vera convinced businesses and county buildings to demand the use of face masks.

Judge Cortez says Hidalgo County had hoped to use the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding to help businesses.

“It was out hope that we could use some of our funds to help businesses get plexiglass, personal protection equipment, sanitation supplies and stuff like that. So that we could continue to operate,” said Cortez.

That was before Hidalgo County gave more money to each city per resident. Now, Cortez hopes the cities consider that option.

Rules are lax, but personal responsibility is encouraged from Willacy County to Starr County.

“If people that go out and they party and the socialize, and then they come back, and then they give it to their grandparents or babies,” said Vera.

This week in Starr County, two infants just months old were confirmed to have COVID-19.

Judge Cortez says as of Friday, 55 more people tested positive for the virus in Hidalgo County. Judge Vera says they suspect Memorial Day weekend and family get togethers could be responsible for the recent increase in Starr County.

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