McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — No shirt. No shoes. No face mask. No service.
Coronavirus rules in the South Texas city of Laredo are likely to stay in place through the end of May despite Texas Gov. Greg Abbott easing restrictions to reopen more businesses statewide starting Friday.
During a Tuesday noon video conference call with media, Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz and City Manager Robert Eads said this border town — located across the Rio Grande from the Mexican city of Nuevo Laredo — is in a unique position as it has struggled to control COVID-19 cases. And local leaders said they must make hard decisions to best protect their 250,000 residents.
“We do want the economy to recover, that’s our goal. There is no question of that, but of course, we have to be mindful of the experiences we’ve had and where we are situated. Located here at the border, with our neighbor to the south, Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, which is undergoing now some of the horrible experiences this COVID-19 can bring,” Saenz said.
On Tuesday night, Webb County announced it had its 16th death from COVID-19 and 349 cases from the novel deadly virus. They also have had a high number of healthcare workers infected.
Mexican officials in the state of Tamaulipas, which includes Nuevo Laredo, have been criticized for lax reporting of coronavirus cases and deaths during this pandemic, which has made it difficult to track in Laredo, where it believed that many cases come from travelers coming from the south.
Abbot on Monday announced that he was letting his shelter-in-place order expire Friday, allowing retailers, movie theaters, libraries and museums to reopen with some modifications. However, city and county officials stated Tuesday that they were inclined to keep effect until May 30 their countywide shelter-in-place regulation, facial covering rules, nightly curfew, children’s lockdown and other hygienic recommendations — as prescribed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — whether or not they can enforce the orders.
“We will follow the mandate as required by Gov. Abbott,” Eads said. “But we can, ourselves, take precaution and mandate certain things within our own abilities and we will be doing that.”
What they will actually do will be determined by the Laredo City Council during their scheduled meeting on Monday. However, Eads suggested that as the largest area employer — with nearly 3,000 workers — that the City of Laredo can — and should — require all city employees to wear face masks, as well as anyone being served by a city employee.
They also are looking into recommending that all residents continue to cover their noses and mouths in public.
“It goes back to personal responsibility,” Saenz said. “The governor says you can’t be fined, but I think the city council can strongly recommend that they (face masks) still be used. … The safest route and course of action I would take is to try and enforce the masks until such time as things get better.”
It goes back to personal responsibility … The safest route and course of action I would take is to try and enforce the masks until such time as things get better.”Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz
After Saenz’s comments, Laredo City spokesman Rafael Benavides stressed that their decisions will be based on legal recommendations by their city attorneys, and he couched the mayor’s comments a bit.
“We are still working and processing the governor’s order,” Benavides said. “As of right now we are not enforcing the face coverings but are highly recommending it.”
“He’s leaving the responsibility up to us, the people, not just to government entities,” Webb County Judge Tano Tijerina said. “It’s important for all of us to understand, based on these guidelines from the CDC, if it’s recommended precautions we are taking we should not see a spoke in the numbers but if the public does not follow these guidelines and heed the warnings then we’ll likely see a spike in cases.”
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