By Gaige Davila
Cameron County’s shelter-in-place order, first enacted on March 25, and the 12:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. curfew, will effectively end today, Friday, May 1, in response to Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s executive orders to “reopen” the state.
Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño, Jr. announced the end of the county mandate, which had been previously scheduled to end on May 4, during an April 29 press conference.
Previously mandated, county-wide restrictions will now operate as recommendations, Treviño said, saying the county is respecting Governor Abbott’s executive order. This includes restrictions regarding face coverings in public, along with the amount of persons riding inside a vehicle.
Treviño is strongly recommending people still follow social distancing and previous guidelines, fearing a second wave of COVID-19 in Cameron County.
“We don’t want to reopen or jump too quickly from one point to the next,” Treviño said. “This pandemic is still here. We continue to see (new) cases daily.”
Cameron County, has 412 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Eighteen people have died from the novel coronavirus, with 17 of the victims coming from two Harlingen nursing homes, Windsor Atrium and Veranda Nursing Home, both of which are experiencing outbreaks. To date, 187 of Cameron County’s cases have recovered.
Port Isabel’s confirmed COVID-19 cases stands at 3. Neighboring Laguna Vista has one case. South Padre Island has no confirmed cases.
In Port Isabel, City Manager Jared Hockema told the PRESS that the city’s buildings, museums and libraries likely will not open for a couple of months, even though they are permitted to do so under Abbott’s executive order, with 25 percent capacity. Port Isabel’s iconic lighthouse may open in June, allowing limited capacity.
Checkpoints from the Port Isabel Police Department on Highway 100 and Highway 48 have been stopped.
The City of South Padre Island reopened their beaches on April 25, allowing visitors to lounge on the beach, so long as there’s adequate distance between them and others. Retail stores were offering curbside, and hotels and other short-term rental agencies are now being encouraged to take non-essential reservations, according to a press release from the city.
“This has been an extremely difficult 6 weeks for the nation an even more so for our local economy, as it is dependent upon tourism,” Patrick McNulty, mayor of South Padre Island, said in the press release. “We are so excited that the light of the end of the tunnel continues to brighten and we welcome all of our visitors to return to the Island that they enjoy and love.”
The Island’s reopening happened alongside Cameron County’s partial reopening of its parks, including Andy Bowie Park, Isla Blanca Park, E.K. Atwood Park and Public Beach Accesses 3,4, 5, and 6, all of which are on South Padre Island. Treviño said, during his April 29 press conference, that coastal park visitors over the weekend had been compliant and kept their distance.
Treviño announced the lifted restrictions during an April 24 press conference. The new executive order has been in effect since 12:01 a.m., Saturday, April 25.
All Cameron County parks and boat ramps are open from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Everyone inside the parks or boat ramps need to leave by 8:00 p.m.
For Cameron County coastal parks Andy Bowie Park, E.K. Atwood Park and Isla Blanca Park on South Padre Island, people must be at least six feet away from each other, or 10 feet away if they are under an umbrella or canopy. Face coverings are required for everyone on the beach, unless they are in the water. Six feet must be between persons, and no more than 5 people can gather in one area.
At Boca Chica Beach, cars must park 15 feet away from each other.
No contact sports, or sports involving a ball, are allowed in the parks.
Fishing is allowed on the Jetties and the surf in Isla Blanca Park, so long as people are more than 6 feet away from each other. Surf fishing is also allowed at all Cameron County coastal parks.
At Isla Blanca Park and Andy Bowie Park, only 50 percent of parking can be used. At Isla Blanca Park, that’s 600 cars. At Andy Bowie Park, that’s 125 cars.
The Andy Bowie North Park Flats, Public Beach Accesses 3,4, 5 and 6 have the same social distancing guidelines as the coastal parks. Beach vendors are not allowed to sell on the beach accesses until further notice.
All coastal park and beach access fees are still $12, and $5 for veterans.
The Jaime J. Zapata Memorial Boat Ramp, in Brownsville, and the Adoph Thomae, Jr. County Park, in Rio Hondo, now open, have the same social distancing guidelines as the coastal parks and beach accesses. Swimming, night fishing and overnight parking are not allowed.
County-wide, fishing from boats is allowed, so long as there are only two people on the watercraft. If occupants on the boat are from the same household, there can be four people on board.
Chartered fishing trips are also included in the new executive order.
For boats under 20′ feet in size, only one client, and the guide, are allowed on board. For boats larger than 20′ feet, the guide, plus two clients, are allowed on the watercraft. Facial coverings must be worn on the boat at all times, and filet tables can not be used. Fish must be taken home by guides or clients and filleted there.
Persons launching boats must be one vehicle length away from one another.
Test launches at SpaceX’s Boca Chica Beach facility are occurring throughout the next couple weeks. Those tests, Treviño said, will be in the evenings, so people can go to Boca Chica Beach undisturbed.
For church services, drive-through and virtual services are encouraged to continue, Treviño said. For churches who cannot provide either, they are allowed to hold in-person services with no more than ten people, practicing social distancing.
La Esperanza Park, Laureles Recreational Park, La Paloma Recreational Park, Santa Maria Community Park, El Ranchito Recreational Park, El Ranchito Community Park, Santa Rosa Community Park, Pedro (Pete) Benavides Recreational Park, and Bejarano-McFarland Park are open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The playgrounds, swimming pools and splash pads at some of these parks are closed indefinitely.
El Centro Cultural, Bob Clark Social Service Center, and Santa Maria Community Center are open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Rentals from the centers are suspended indefinitely.
The BISD Adult Continuing Education, Summer Program, Exercise Programs, Demonstration Cooking, and Arts & Crafts programs from these centers are cancelled indefinitely.