Thousands visit SPI after state COVID-19 restrictions lifted

By Gaige Davila 

Thousands of cars drove to South Padre Island last weekend, after Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order allowing some businesses to reopen at 25 percent capacity, starting Friday, May 1. 

On Friday, May 1, 8,977 cars drove to the Island; on Saturday, May 2, 10,866; and on Sunday, May 3, 7,833, according to data provided to the PRESS from South Padre Island Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Ed Caum. 

“It is hard to say exactly how many people that equates to,” Caum said. “But the travel industry often uses 2.5 people per car as a baseline.” 

By that measure, nearly 70,000 or more people traveled to South Padre Island over the weekend. Caum said most hotels and businesses on the Island were open and were following the State’s guidelines regarding the 25 percent occupancy rule. 

Abbott’s order, announced during an April 27 press conference at the Texas Capitol, allowed retail stores, malls, restaurants and movie theaters to reopen at 25 percent capacity.  

It was exciting to see so many of our Island businesses being able to start putting some of their employees back to work,” South Padre Island mayor Patrick McNulty told the PRESS. “Getting some of our Island businesses back on line even at a 25 percent capacity has afforded many of our residents and neighbors the opportunity to provide for their families.”

But the resurgence of visitors to South Padre Island which, as of now, has no confirmed cases of COVID-19, was not without concern.

Port Isabel and South Padre Island residents took to Facebook and social media to post photos of traffic and persons in close contact, fearing more people will contract the novel coronavirus COVID-19. Photos and videos taken over the weekend inside South Padre Island businesses shown to the PRESS show people in close contact, but it is unclear where the videos and photos were filmed exactly. 

Residents’ concern here is valid, as Cameron County continues confirming COVID-19 cases daily. During a May 6 press conference, Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño, Jr. said the county is seeing an average of 11 cases a day. 

Treviño said he’s received reports of businesses not enforcing the 25 percent capacity rule and not following social distancing guidelines. Treviño also mentioned South Padre Island specifically, regarding the large influx of visitors. 

“The first weekend that we opened up the beaches, I was pleasantly surprised to see that everyone was adhering to the rules,” Treviño said. “However this past weekend, maybe it was just the cabin fever or what have you, but it was literally spring break at the Island, and people were not, for the most part, utilizing social distancing and many of them did not have facial coverings.” 

He continued, “If there’s a belief that this virus has left or vacated our county, that’s a wrong idea to have, and everyone would be sorely mistaken to believe that.” 

Gino Puedan, manager of Grapevine Cafe and Coffeehouse, said he understood why people wanted to come to the Island, after several weeks of shelter-in-place orders from Cameron County, which were lifted on May 1. The influx was good for Grapevine, who has opened their dining room and is still providing curbside and delivery service, but some employees are still not able to work, caring for young or elderly relatives. 

But Puedan did not welcome one facet of the influx of visitors: the amount of trash left on the beach and on the street. 

“It’s just straight nonsense,” Puedan said.“When (the beach) was quarantined, it was all clean and pretty, now they abuse it and don’t even care for our beach, our home and our Island.” 

Grapevine is following all of the CDC and State guidelines, Puedan says, sanitizing the restaurant regularly.  He has no plans on shutting the restaurant down.

South Padre Island Mayor Patrick McNulty said the City of South Padre Island is addressing the concerns residents and business owners have raised, investigating complaints. McNulty said all guests and citizens are encouraged to follow the Governor’s orders, minimizing in-person contact with people not in the same household. The city is adding additional resources to beach patrol to issue warnings and tickets for violations. 

McNulty said the city has been in “constant communication” with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC), the Cameron County District Attorney’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office. 

In Port Isabel, there are 3 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with one person recovered. In Laguna Vista, there is one confirmed case. As of press time, there are 469 COVID-19 cases in Cameron County, with 225 residents recovering from the novel coronavirus. Nineteen people have died. 

The majority of Cameron County’s cases are in Brownsville and Harlingen. 

Want the whole story? Pick up a copy of the Port Isabel-South Padre Press, or subscribe to our E-Edition by clicking here.

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  1. Why doesn’t the City put huge signs on the beach . Keep South Padre Island Beautiful or Please keep your Beach Clean- Don’t Liter. Signs that they have at Buchees works

    • Cindy Black on May 10, 2020 at 5:09 pm
    • Reply

    I love SPI and try to come every year. In fact, I’m here now with my brother & his son. I’m amazed at people not social distancing, not watching where their trash ends up & very few masks being worn by visitors! Please don’t trash “my” beach! We’ve been coming here for almost 60 years. I’d you can’t respect the beach, then go home & don’t come back. I’m wearing a mask to protect you; I would appreciate the same consideration from you.

    • Elle Holland on May 15, 2020 at 9:43 am
    • Reply

    The city has to make the garbage situation a priority-or no one else will. Have signs that say “fines will be enforced for littering” .Make an example of worst violators and print it in the papers and post around the island. Make sure there are plenty of garbage cans with strong lids that are emptied regularly. I guarantee you the garbage will end up in the cans .

    • DeathRowKingPin on May 17, 2020 at 9:17 pm
    • Reply

    I’ve seen more people pulled over then get bail set for $450. This place biggest scam running than ever. I watched my friend get arrested for mimic police after he got in trouble for music being to loud. He’s bail $450. They say pay the fine get out don’t bother showing up that’s your fine anyways

    • Gayle on June 29, 2020 at 6:33 pm
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    If the County shuts down the County Parks and beach accesses, then where do they think these individuals are going to go?! It just sounds like a huge recipe for disaster. Imagine how congested the City beaches are going to get. Makes it extremely dangerous. It’s really not fair to those who have paid quite a bit of money to vacation on what they are assuming to be safe social distancing areas during a pandemic. SPI needs to do better than that. As it stands, fireworks have been cancelled. Bars are closed. Can’t even go see the turtles!!Now this, dangerously congested beaches. Sounds alot like Florida and they have shut thier beaches down!

      • Cindy Black on June 30, 2020 at 11:40 am
      • Reply

      I was one of the fortunate ones who was able to take my vacation the 2nd week of May as planned. It was my brother, his son & myself. We brought food from home, so we didn’t go out much. I did order take out from Dirty Al’s one evening – I couldn’t pass up a chance to get some fresh fried shrimp. We waited outside until our order was ready.
      Any time we exited our condo, we wore masks. I also carried sanitizer wipes with me so I didn’t have to touch surfaces. And we used hand sanitizer like crazy. It was NOT crowded on the beach where we were; people were very respectful about keeping away from others. We basically “sheltered at home” in our condo or on the beach in our small area. I can’t tell you how WONDERFUL it was to get back to my beach again! I was also disappointed that the turtle rescue was still closed, but I understand their caution.

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