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The city of Peñitas is slowly starting to open up after adjusting to the precautions imposed due to COVID-19.
Last week, the Peñitas city council met to amend the emergency order they approved in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The amended order, approved Thurs. April 30, included information regarding Governor Greg Abbott’s Executive Order GA-18 that expanded the reopening of services.
The plan, which details how retail and restaurant businesses can gradually open, became effective in Peñitas at 12:01 a.m. on Friday, May 1, 2020. The amended order approved by the council still recommends people practice social distancing, keep group gatherings to ten people or less and wear facial coverings like masks when conducting essential services.
“People can start to return to a more normal life,” Peñitas City Manager Omar Romero said. “Obviously exercise caution out there, you never know where someone else could be or who they’ve been in contact with. I think caution is going to be the important thing – we’re just going to take educated and measured steps to open back up.”
Romero said that the city hall has already been fitted with health and safety measures, so they can go in and apply for permits again starting next week.
“It’s taken some time to get adjusted to, but we’re doing fine,” Romero said of the pandemic protocols. “At no time did essential services like fire, police, or anything, dwindle down.”
When Hidalgo County first began implementing restrictions, including a curfew for all residents who were not considered essential workers, Peñitas started a checkpoint during curfew hours to ensure drivers on the road were following guidelines and conducting essential business. Romero stressed that city employees and first responders haven’t delayed a moment since the pandemic placed restrictions over the county, state and country.
“We’ve been working at full capacity this entire time, and even our administrative staff has been available to the public,” Romero said. “Court has been available, we set everybody up remotely, we’re going to continue to be on a staggered and remote schedule until everything fully opens up for the protection of not only our staff, but also our citizens.”
Romero was thankful that as of press day, the city of Peñitas has seen zero positive cases of COVID-19.
“Thanks to the quick thinking of the mayor and council, and our staff, up to date, our city has been one of the few cities that has not had a single positive case,” Romero said. “Our fire department and police department have been very vigilant, and our emergency services through EMS has also been very vigilant in disinfecting everything.”
Romero noted that their retail partners and restaurants have stepped up throughout the ordeal.
“Denny’s remained open the entire time and served the public,” Romero said. “I have to say that if it was not for the quick thinking of our city council and everyone, things could have been very different.”
The amended order (which can be read on the city website here) outlines what constitutes as essential, and what retail services can begin the process of reopening. Any retail services that can provide products by mail, doorstep or pickup are ready.
In addition, in-store retail services can operate at 25 percent of the total listed occupancy of the establishment. Dine-in restaurants can also begin to open up to customers, as long as the restaurants also keep capacity at 25 percent, they “have less than 51 percent of their gross receipts from the sale of alcoholic beverages” and as long as valet services continue to be prohibited.
“We want retail to continue, we want restaurants to open,” Romero said. “But we’re going to enforce that they open safely and cautiously to ensure that the public and staff are protected.”
Under the amended order, museums and libraries can also operate at 25 percent occupancy. However, the Peñitas Public Library, which holds a computer lab, meeting spaces and thousands of books, is still closed.
“We’re still in the process of retrofitting it,” Romero said. “[We’re] adding plexiglass in between the librarians, staff and public.”
The city aims to open the library doors to a limited capacity of people on Monday, but are still waiting on supplies to ensure the plexiglass windows are installed properly. The library is still available for curbside appointments, and Wi-Fi services were extended.
“If citizens want to come by and get a book, the librarians will go out and they’ll handle everything remotely,” Romero said. “We’ve extended the Wi-Fi a little bit so it reaches into the parking lot, and we’ve got the password and everything written on the windows so people have access.”
“Until we have the safety measures in place, we won’t open to a limited occupancy,” Romero added. “Right now, the local suppliers of the plexiglass seem to be running low, so we’re struggling a little to find the necessary materials.”
The amended order will be held in Peñitas through 11:59 p.m. on May 18, 2020, or until it is rescinded or changed by the city or Governor’s office and coronavirus strike force.
Wednesday, May 6, the city participated in the “10 Days, 18 Cities, 10,000 People Tour, partnering with One United RGV.
Mayor Rigo Lopez served as Alliance Chair, and volunteers and members of the National Guard loaded vehicles with essential groceries for Peñitas families from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. The cars lined Liberty Drive next to John F. Kennedy Elementary, stretching all the way to Expressway 83.
Joe Flores, the county commissioner for Precinct 3, also supported the efforts to feed RGV families. Flores’ donation meant they distributed an additional 700 packages of food alongside the One United RGV distribution.
“At no time have any services stopped – everything is going to continue to move forward,” Romero said. “Permits are being issued, construction is still going on – I just want the citizens to know that COVID has not stopped the progress that they’ve seen in the city over the last five years.”