Businesses in the Rio Grande Valley will have to drop to 50% capacity and elective surgeries will be halted because the state now considers the region a “high hospitalization” area for COVID-19.

Friday marked the eighth day more than 15% of people at local hospitals were fighting the virus, according to Dr. Emily Prot, regional medical director for the Department of State Health’s Services Region 11.

Under an executive order enacted by Gov. Greg Abbott in October, regions that report virus hospitalization rates of more than 15% for more than seven days should drop business capacities from 75% to 50%, and stop elective surgeries.

According to data from the Texas Department of State Health Services, as of Wednesday, 18.81% of patients in Valley hospitals were diagnosed with COVID-19.

Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez and Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. ordered businesses in their respective counties to cut indoor capacity limits to half and halted elective surgeries at local hospitals in orders released Friday.

Additionally, Starr County Judge Eloy Vera was ordered by Texas Health and Human Services on Thursday to also reduce business capacities to 50% and stop elective surgeries in local hospitals.

Establishments that must operate at 50% capacity include churches, local government facilities, child care services, restaurants, sports programs and movie theaters.

Additionally, under the order, household gatherings can not include more than 10 people, and everyone older than 10 must wear a facial covering above their nose and mouth in public spaces.

“It is still here and still dangerous, we are still losing people from COVID,” Cortez said in a phone call on Friday. “… I think that if we try to use all the protocols that are available to us, we can mitigate it, we just have to be patient with one another and work together. The best way we can beat this disease is by all of us doing our part, and what’s our part? Our part is taking the precautions that we all should know already.”

Cortez added though vaccines will help prevent the spread of the virus, the community must continue to diligently follow social distancing precautions.

Prot echoed the same sentiment.

“Vaccination is one thing, and we are working toward that,” she said. “It is another tool in our box for prevention, but one of the tools we already have and can’t forget is social distancing.”

Washing hands, staying 6 feet away from others in public, and limiting social gatherings is all more important now, Prot said, since Texas’ first case of the new and more contagious coronavirus strain was discovered in Harris County

The man did not have any history of traveling, “so this means that this variance is in our community, so we do need to be careful,” Prot said.

As of Friday, there were 638 people in local hospitals. The last time hospitalizations in the Valley exceeded 600 was in August.

Also on Friday, Hidalgo County confirmed 10 additional deaths due to COVID-19, along with 758 new cases.

The death toll now stands at 2,245, and the total cases at 54,600, according to a county news release. The youngest among the deaths was a Mission man in his 30s.

Of the new cases, 648 are confirmed and 110 are probable.

There are currently 395 people with COVID-19 in local hospitals, of which 114 are in intensive care units, according to the release.

Also on Friday, 687 people were confirmed to have recovered from the virus, leaving 1,957 active cases. So far, 50,396 people have recovered from COVID-19 in the county.

Cameron County confirmed four additional deaths linked to the virus on Friday, raising the death toll there to 1,205, according to a county release.

County officials also reported 223 new cases of the virus. There have now been 31,192 reported cases of COVID-19 in the county.

Additionally, 141 people on Friday were reported to have recovered from the virus in the county, bringing the total recoveries to 26,168.

Over in Willacy County, nine new cases of the virus were confirmed, bringing the total cases there 1,672, according to county officials.