HIDALGO COUNTY, Texas (ValleyCentral) — Cities looking to return to normal are scheduling festivals in the near future as COVID-19 cases continue to increase. Governor Greg Abbott has said counties can’t require masks but there are other ways counties can enforce COVID-19 precautions.

While the Governor’s executive order makes it where counties can’t enforce mask mandates or occupancy limits in businesses, Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez told Valley Central that the county does have some authority to limit outdoor gatherings.

Governor Abbott’s executive order limiting county authority to restrict attendance is being challenged in court by several of the state’s largest counties and cities but is still in effect while that process works through the courts.

When Cortez was asked what power the county would have to try and limit gatherings in order to help slow the spread of COVID-19, Cortez said “the Governor doesn’t allow us to enforce any restrictions for indoor gatherings” but he said the county could limit the size of outdoor gatherings somewhat.

Hidalgo County has rules and regulations for mass gatherings that date back to before the pandemic that they can use to curtail the number of attendees to events.

You can read the full document in the link below.

Cortez said Hidalgo County will “have restrictions of 500 or less” for these mass gatherings. Cities can still hold outdoor festivals and the county will work with them to ensure everyone’s safety.

“We look at the health and safety features that you’re implementing in the gathering for us to know that you’re taking some precautions, that you’re taking some responsibility,” Cortez said.

Judge Cortez made it clear: the county can, and will, refuse to issue permits for outdoor events if COVID-19 safety precautions at the event aren’t up to their standards.

He welcomes anyone to challenge them on that, saying “if they want to test the authority that we have, then that’s what we have courtrooms and lawyers and laws” for.

When asked if Hidalgo County would also join the legal battle some of the larger counties in the state are going through in order to install a mask mandate, Cortez said there were no plans for Hidalgo County to take that course of action. However, they would be monitoring the situation closely.

“If something happens in the courtroom that doesn’t allow us to protect our children, then we’re going to keep fighting to protect our children,” Cortez said.

There are exceptions to the mass gathering rules that the county can enforce, the most important of which is that the county can’t enforce the mass gathering rules for school sporting events such as football games.