In step with other Rio Grande Valley counties, Starr County issued a supplemental emergency order on Monday establishing a curfew recommendation, prohibiting large gatherings, and strongly recommending the use of facial masks in public in an effort to control the spread of COVID-19.
The county issued two curfews, the first of which will be from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. for people 17 years old and under unless accompanied by a parent or guardian.
The second will be from 11 p.m. until 5 a.m. for everyone 18 years old and older, unless an individual is out for an emergency or providing covered services.
The emergency order goes into effect Tuesday.
Adherence to the curfew cannot be enforced through a criminal or civil penalty, according to Starr County Judge Eloy Vera. However, law enforcement will be encouraging the public to do so.
“Let’s say I’m out at midnight — I can be stopped and I can be told, ‘Hey, it’s recommended that there’s a curfew, that you go home,’” Vera said. “We try to enforce it but we cannot fine them, that’s the difference.”
Monday’s order also prohibits gatherings of 10 people or more occurring outside a single household unit and also prohibits outdoor events, such as July 4 celebrations, where more than 100 people are estimated to attend.
“The socializing and general gatherings of 100 or less, that is by governor’s order so we’re going to be enforcing that,” Vera said, adding that violations of that limit can be punishable to a fine of up to 1,000 or up to 180 days in jail.
Those types of gatherings are typically seen for celebrations such as weddings or quinceañeras, he explained.
Event halls where those types of celebrations are held may, for example, have a capacity of up to 500 and current state law allows businesses to be open for up to 50% of their capacity.
“But now, this says you cannot have more than 100,” Vera said. “So it’s whatever is the least — either the 50% of capacity and no more than 100.”
Smaller, household gatherings of no more than 10 are not subject to penalties.
“If we see someone gathering at their homes and there are 15, 20 of them, law enforcement or code enforcers, someone will stop and tell them that it’s advisable that they disperse,” Vera said of the efforts that will be taken to encourage the public to follow the guidelines.
Sheltering at home is also highly “encouraged and recommended” unless the purpose of leaving the home is to obtain or provide essential services.
“All persons shall minimize social gatherings; minimize in-person contact with people who are not in the same household,” the order stated.
Also recommended is that every person over the age of 3 should wear a face mask over their mouth and nose in public when it is difficult to maintain a 6-foot distance from others.
“Or (when) working in areas that involve close proximity with other persons; when on parking lots; when using public transportation, taxis or ride services; when pumping gas; when providing take-out, curbside, or drive-thru services,” the order stated.
The mask recommendation is also not enforceable by a civil or criminal penalty.
Earlier this month, Vera signed an order requiring the use of masks inside business. If the use of them is not enforced, the business could face a penalty.
Similar orders, in which the responsibility falls on the businesses to require masks and adopt other safety practices, were also adopted by Hidalgo, Cameron, and Willacy counties.