Counties to reduce occupancy levels to 50%
Facing an increase in new reported cases of COVID-19 and hospitalizations, the entire Rio Grande Valley will decrease occupancy levels in all businesses and hold off on any performing elective surgeries.
Starr County first made the announcement in a Friday morning virtual news conference where he announced the order went into effect overnight. Under the order, enforced by an executive order from state Gov. Greg Abbott made last fall, regions that report virus hospitalization rates of more than 15% for more than seven days should drop capacities of business from 75% to 50% and stop performing elective surgeries.
The entire RGV currently has had a hospitalization rate of 18.8 percent over the last week, according to a news release from Hidalgo County. The order affects the counties of Hidalgo, Cameron, Starr and Willacy
“For several months, [Starr County Judge Eloy Vera] has been warning everyone that our numbers would increase if we weren’t careful. Unfortunately, his prophecy has become true,” Starr County Health Authority Antonio Falcon said.
Shortly after that order in Starr County, Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez announced similar restrictions.
“With the holidays, we have been concerned for weeks about the hospitalization rate,” Judge Cortez said in a statement. “While much of the community is rightly focused on COVID-19 vaccinations, this is a stark reminder that the virus continues to impact our community and we must continue to exercise caution around other people.”
Hidalgo County reported that 395 people were in county hospitals being treated for COVID-19. The county also confirmed 10 additional deaths and 758 new cases.
Though Starr County didn’t have updated hospitalization numbers, the county reported on Thursday 61 new cases of the disease.
“In the last seven days we’ve had 395 positive COVID cases. We’d been averaging 50 per week beforehand,” Dr. Falcon said, adding that 255 of those cases came from Rio Grande City and 101 of the cases were from people aged 18 and younger.
Judge Cortez issued the order one day after being notified by Dr. John Hellerstedt, Commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, that the Rio Grande Valley was once again a high hospitalization region, the county stated in the release.
The order is effective one minute after midnight on Friday, January 8, and shall remain in effect until it is modified or rescinded.
The announcement came the day after the new COVID-19 variant that was first discovered in the United Kingdom last fall was discovered in Texas. The DSHS said in the news release that the new strain – which is far more contagious than most strains of the coronavirus – was discovered in a man in Harris County with ho travel history.
The current scientific evidence is that the variant does not cause more severe disease and that vaccines are expected to be effective against it, the department said in a Thursday news release..
“The most concerning number is the number of deaths,” Judge Vera said. “They also continue to go up and that is of grave concern for us. We’re doing the best we can with what we have but we need the cooperation of our citizens and community as a whole”