Texas Governor’s Office: County’s Stay-at-Home Order Not Mandatory

July 22, 2020 Updated: July 22, 2020

A Texas county’s harsh shelter-at-home order that went into effect Wednesday is only a recommendation, Gov. Greg Abbott’s office said.

Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez, a Democrat, signed a new mandate this week that ordered residents to shelter-at-home. It says that no law enforcement or other official “may detain, arrest, or confine in jail any person for a violation of this order.”

“This order has no enforcement mechanism, which makes it simply a recommendation for those to stay home if they can, which Governor Abbott supports,” a spokesman for the Republican said in a statement to news outlets.

The mandate is one of the strictest imposed anywhere in the nation during the pandemic, including a nightly curfew for everyone 18 or older and the requirement that children 17 or younger be accompanied by an adult when leaving their home.

Some exceptions apply to the restrictions, primarily surrounding so-called essential services like obtaining grocery services or traveling to certain types of jobs.

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A woman shapes a Stetson hat in front of clients while wearing a mask at the manufacture store in Garland, Texas on July 20, 2020. (Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images)

The mandate also requires every person to wear face coverings when out in public or inside private homes when social distancing, or six feet of distance from non-household members, cannot be maintained. It orders residents to not travel in cars in groups larger than two. And it encourages commercial businesses to cease any operations that cannot be provided through curbside, drive-through, or take-out services.

The order went into effect on July 22.

“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, who signed the order in his capacity as the county’s emergency management director, said in a statement. “This action will help us do the right thing to save and protect each other from this deadly disease by sheltering at home.”

Abbott told KGRV that parts of the order are enforceable, including the curfew.

“That is one of the strategies to make sure they reduce the number of people out and about,” he said.

The governor earlier in July issued a statewide requirement to wear masks in public. People who get caught violating the order twice or more can land a $250 fine. The Republican also warned that he could impose a lockdown if masks aren’t worn. He later claimed he had not made that threat.

“This order does not force businesses to shut down in the Rio Grande Valley. Enforcing the existing protocols, including wearing face coverings, is proven to slow the spread of COVID-19,” said the governor’s office.

Starr County Judge Eloy Vera, a Democrat, urged residents to shelter-in-place earlier this month. Hospitals in the county ran out of beds, he claimed.

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Protective equipment and medical supplies in a hospital in Houston, Texas, on July 16, 2020. (David J. Phillip/AP Photo)

Vera said Tuesday that he plans to issue a stay-at-home order.

“We are literally in a life and death situation,” he told reporters at a virtual press conference.

Vera admitted that county officials don’t have the legal authority to compel residents to stay home but urged them to follow the planned mandate anyways.

“If the people in our community, the citizens of this community, don’t help us get a handle on this thing, we’re going to lose it and, in fact, we’re very close to losing the situation,” he said.

Abbott’s current executive orders don’t allow local governments to enforce stay-at-home orders they issue.

County officials wrote a letter to Abbott urging the governor to return emergency management authority to local jurisdictions. Other officials in the area, including Cortez, also want that authority restored.

Hidalgo County health officials on Tuesday reported 49 deaths, a single-day record, from complications related to the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus. The virus causes COVID-19, which is a disease.

Some 1,080 patients with COVID-19 are currently hospitalized, with 257 patients in intensive care units, according to county data.

Starr County officials said 1,083 COVID-19 patients are “recovering under medical care.” Starr County Health Authority Dr. Jose Vasquez said during the briefing that hospitals one month ago had no COVID-19 patients.

“We had an eight-bed COVID unit that was filled up very soon after the reopening started.”

The county now has 28 patients in the unit.

The county has 17 fatalities with COVID-19 and 27 others pending confirmation from the state.

Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber