By Gaige Davila
So ends the year that felt like several. Going into 2021, the United States, Texas and the Laguna Madre area will continue to endure the COVID-19 pandemic. But with vaccines slowly making their arrival locally, there’s hope that the virus will be contained soon.
Outside of the pandemic, life carried on semi-normal in the Laguna Madre area, albeit from a distance or from behind a digital screen.
Port Isabel’s schools are wrapping up their first semester of the 2020-2021 school year; people are going to the beach; restaurants are serving food; all amid growing COVID-19 cases.
But before then, in January, people ran across the Queen Isabella Memorial Causeway; the Padre Boulevard Median project was starting to get underway on South Padre Island; and Pat McGrath Avery and Rudy Garcia did the (well-needed) task of documenting the shrimping history of Port Isabel and Brownsville, launching their book that month. In February, Jake Falgout returned to the Island and reopened his namesake restaurant, much to the excitement of locals; two suspects in a Laguna Heights murder were given trial dates; and the city of South Padre Island prepared for a Spring Break that would be cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic. Port Isabel High School senior Sean Smith’s short life was tragically ended after being struck by a car.
Texas Senatorial elections started, with incumbent Eddie Lucio and challenger Sara Stapleton Barrera going into runoff; Paragraph’s Bookstore on South Padre Island closed for good; and Port Isabel High School’s yearbook staff returned. Then, Texas confirmed its first COVID-19 case.
Point Isabel ISD began preparing for the virus’ spread; Port Isabel’s H-E-B limited the amount of customers in its stores; and the University Interscholastic League (UIL) cancelled sports across the state. By then, two people visiting the Island had contracted COVID-19 after attending a wedding out of state, returning to the Island. The cases would be the first two of the county’s (as of press time) nearly 30,000. For a short period, residents were restricted from moving as they pleased, with curfews, closures and other curtailing issued by the Governor’s or County Judge’s offices. When the State of Texas declared itself safe to reopen, COVID-19 cases spread, particularly in the Rio Grande Valley, filling hospitals over capacity.
In May, one of the Island’s oldest condominium buildings, Gulfpoint, caught fire after an early morning lightning strike. The blaze made national news, only extinguished with the help of several fire departments and the downpour of rain. One of Port Isabel’s oldest eateries, Isabel’s Cafe, celebrated 47 years in business, as the state continued loosening restrictions instituted to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In response, nearly 66,000 people visited South Padre Island during the Memorial Day weekend, to the concern of locals, visitors and Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño, Jr.
The Class of 2020 graduated at Tarpon Stadium, a ceremony which hadn’t happened in several years. Masks were worn throughout the ceremony, during a breezy day with a full moon. Fireworks were shot into the sky, closing a chapter for students now tasked with entering a road not traveled.
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