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No more group events; youth curfew reinforced
Those who continue hosting group events and those who violate a nighttime curfew can expect to be cited and face misdemeanor or felony charges, according to La Salle County commissioners in an emergency meeting last week.
New measures ordered by the court in the wake of a continued increase of coronavirus cases in La Salle County include closure of all public buildings and parks through at least January 4, with only essential staff occupying government offices. The county courthouse has been closed to the public.
An exercise walking trail at Martinez Park in Cotulla is the only county facility still open to the public.
Concessions to the taxpayer have also been agreed upon by the county commissioners, including an extended tax discount period, allowing property owners to delay their payments to the county by the period in which offices are closed; and a relaxation by law enforcement officers on citation of drivers with expired vehicle inspection or registration.
La Salle County recorded 111 active cases of the coronavirus among its residents last week, a number that does not include 36 COVID-positive occupants of the Regional Detention Center at Encinal or those who commute to work in La Salle County from elsewhere and have contracted the virus.
La Salle paramedics reported to commissioners at their emergency meeting that staff were called upon to make 24 ambulance transports in the past week and that 23 of those were for COVID-related cases.
Commissioners learned again last week from the county’s Fire Rescue & EMS that contact tracing for those residents who have tested positive for the coronavirus has shown that contagion did not occur at bars, game parlors or funerals, but that the majority of those who presently have the virus were infected at private parties or illicit gatherings.
Those events, according to County Judge Joel Rodriguez in an interview this week, are considered illegal in the face of La Salle’s new restrictions, and no city-issued permits for gathering will be honored.
“All meetings or gatherings, including so-called secret parties, are in violation of this order,” the judge said Monday. “The sheriff’s office has been instructed to issue citations.”
“When you enact restrictions on gathering but public officials think they are exempt or that they can hold parties or events without consequences, you just have to clamp down and put a stop to all of them,” the judge said. “We’ve got to stop the spread, and it’s been happening because of these gatherings.”
A curfew from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. for all youths up to the age of 17 remains in effect in La Salle County; violators will likewise face citation and fines.
Felony charges may be pursued by the 81st Judicial District, the judge said, in cases involving repeat violations or deliberate infraction.
“We know that there are residents of La Salle County who post on social media that they have been infected or that they are COVID-positive, but then they’re going out to stores,” Rodriguez said. “Almost all the stores in Cotulla have cameras; we are seeing people shopping who are supposed to be isolated at home.”
The county government has reached out to the Texas Department of Public Safety Highway Patrol for help in the enforcement of quarantine orders and expects to push for criminal prosecution of violators.
“Refusing to obey a quarantine order can be punished as a misdemeanor,” the county judge said, “but it can be bumped up to a felony charge if someone repeatedly puts others at risk. It’s being documented.”