Things are looking up for the Rio Grande Valley. After more than half a year under restrictions on public activity, the area has reached a critical threshold of manageable COVID-19 cases, which allows many Valley businesses to reopen their doors or expand their capacity.
Local hospitals began reporting last week that fewer than 15% of their beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients; that’s the benchmark Gov. Greg Abbott had set for easing safety precautions that included business closures, facemasks and curfews. That’s a major change from just a few weeks ago, when hospitals were full that mobile units, convention centers and other facilities were used to handle the overflow. Most of the state had started reopening earlier, but the viral pandemic hit this area particularly hard — while the Valley has about 5% of the state’s population, it reported almost 18.4% of the state’s COVID-19 fatalities.
The reopening certainly will help rekindle the fires of trade that fuel the South Texas economy, but it also brings other important benefits. Doctors who no longer face high volumes of COVID-19 patients can now resume providing elective and preventative care such as non-emergency visits and cancer screenings — procedures in which early detection literally could save lives.
Fortunately and to his credit, Abbott’s recent order allowed local officials to make the final decisions on easing restrictions, unlike earlier this spring, when he fought local officials who wanted to exercise caution a little while longer. That early opening was followed by a resurgence of the pandemic and subsequent second closure of the state’s economy. Valley officials have opted to be cautious this time as well, especially with regard to children, who are less likely to understand and more likely to ignore requests to wear masks and keep safe distances from others. Some local districts received waivers allowing them to delay a full return to classroom instruction, and trick-or-treating and other Halloween activities are being limited or banned.
Certainly, Valley residents will welcome their new freedoms and the chance to visit favorite stores, restaurants and other businesses that had been closed. Those Halloween cautions should serve as a reminder that the COVID-19 threat is still real, and it would not be a good idea to let our guard down.
In fact, local and federal officials agree that we can expect a new surge in cases of the virus during the year’s final months as group gatherings become common. Students’ return to the classroom, family gatherings for Halloween and Christmas shopping in crowded stores all are prime situations where the virus can show up and attack several people at once.
Let us remember, then, that viruses don’t listen to governors and that the success of the decisions to scale back restrictions depends greatly on every individual’s prudent decisions. We should continue to make cleanliness a priority, limit public interactions and continue covering our faces when we do meet with other people.
Our cooperation not only will prove his trust is warranted, but spare many people the suffering that could accompany a return of the coronavirus.