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Courthouse virus outbreak prompts county office closures
Frio County has closed all its buildings to the public due to an increase in the number of coronavirus-positive cases at the courthouse.
The order took effect on Monday, January 4, and buildings will remain closed until Friday, January 8. During the closure, district court will operate on a virtual basis and offices will tend to necessary and emergency business by appointment only.
Frio County Judge Arnulfo Luna called the emergency meeting on New Year’s Day following an uptick in COVID-19 cases that affected every office at the government building.
“I do not think it would hurt at all to shut down at least a week to disinfect the courthouse,” Luna said. “This will benefit the employees and citizens.”
According to Pct. 4 Commissioner Jose Asuncion, the average exposure is five days. Asuncion urged employees who received a positive diagnosis to take the advice of their healthcare professionals and quarantine as advised.
“We have a case in every office,” the commissioner said. “And I expect next week to be even worse.”
Luna said he preferred an outside agency be solicited to clean the facilities during the week-long closure.
Before the motion to close all county offices, the court heard from several department heads who had concerns about upcoming pertinent business in their offices, such as district court hearings, payment of property taxes and protective orders.
“My office will be closed except for protective orders,” Frio County Attorney Joseph Sindon said.
Sindon said the county criminal and civil dockets set for Wednesday, Jan. 6, were rescheduled.
“Is your life really worth that to come and pay your taxes?” Luna said after Frio County Tax Assessor Collector Ana Alaniz offered comments on the closure.
Alaniz said her office has remained open, by appointment, for citizens to pay their property taxes. However, the tax assessor said she does not favor curbside service due to what she described as a lack of protective measures taken by citizens.
“When they come to pay, they are not wearing masks or any type of protective gear,” Alaniz said. “No matter how many times we ask them, they will not put on a mask. I do not think it is fair to risk my employees’ health.”
Payments for property taxes can be taken over the phone with no fee assessed at (830) 334-2152; residents can pay online for a fee. The office is also taking payments by mail.
“Last summer, I gave up on this issue,” Comm. Asuncion said of the courthouse closure. “Because ultimately you are the judge, you are the one who is there and you can enforce the rules.”
Newly elected Pct. 3 Comm. Raul Carrizales made the motion to close all facilities until Jan. 8. He was supported by Comm. Asuncion, Luna and Pct. 2 Comm. Richard ‘Dickie’ Graf. Pct. 1 Comm. Joe Vela voted against the motion.
Commissioners will decide Monday, Jan. 11, whether facilities including parks should remain closed.