Schools remain closed

Gov. Greg Abbott announced Friday that while the state will begin the process to reopen and ease restrictions on businesses and public places in the coming weeks, public and private school classrooms, including those in higher education, will remain closed for the remainder of the 2019-20 academic year.

"The team of doctors advising us have determined that it would be unsafe to allow students to gather in schools for the foreseeable future," Abbott said during Friday's press conference.

In the Kingsville and Bishop areas, school districts have had campuses on lockdown since around Spring Break in March, moving to long-distance education through online resources and the distribution of paper packets to students and families.

"We are very prepared to continue instructing our students remotely," Christina Gutierrez, superintendent for Bishop Consolidated ISD said.

Gutierrez said they had "kind of anticipated" that Gov. Abbott would order campuses closed for the remainder of the school year and had been planning accordingly.

"We were ready," she said. "And I hope not, but if are unable to reopen school in August, we are also prepared to start remotely if we need to."

"We would, of course, rather be in school," she added. "Because that

would mean everything was back to normal."

Ricardo ISD Superintendent Vita Canales said her thoughts have been "torn between" closing campuses down for the remainder of the school year and having them reopen.

"But this is the safest thing to do right now," Canales said. "It's hard to social distance students, and that was going to be difficult for us if they came back (this year)."

Canales said another factor is the community's perception of the COVID-19 pandemic. She said many parents she's spoken with "aren't ready to send their kids back just yet."

"So if we did, we'd have some kids in school, and some who would stay at home," Canales said. "And that would be difficult to deal with as far as work, grading and those kinds of things. I feel like (Abbott) made the best decision given the situation."

While classrooms will remain closed for students for the rest of the school year, Abbott's order does allow for teachers and administrators to return to their campuses for certain administrative and educational tasks.

Gutierrez said her staff are ready to get back to the campus, albeit in a controlled fashion, to work on lesson plans and gather materials from their classrooms.

"For the last few weeks, they haven't been able to go (to their campuses) at all," she said. "That's a really good change, because teachers have been wanting to get into the buildings to get a few things."

"But we're still going to limit the number to less than five people at a time on any given campus," she added. "Just so that we continue to stay apart and not have any kind of mingling whatsoever."

Canales said being able to return to the campus has been a relief for her teaching staff.

"Our principals have been working on schedules so we can ensure social distancing," she said.

Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath is expected to have further guidance for school districts in the near future regarding the extended closure, summer and fall classes and high school graduation.

Bishop CISD and Driscoll ISD will end their school year on May 21, while Santa Gertrudis, Riviera and Ricardo ISDs will finish on May 22. Kingsville ISD's final day is scheduled for June 5.

COVID-19 cases triple

The number of positive cases of COVID-19 in Kleberg County has tripled since April 13 to six, after having only two confirmed cases in the county for 10 days, Kleberg County and City of Kingsville officials said.

The four cases added to the total each had significant differences in details, as each case was unrelated to the other.

The most recent addition to the positive cases of the novel coronavirus is a middle-aged woman from Kingsville who is receiving treatment at home and is quarantined.

Officials said the case is travel related because the woman recently traveled to Wisconsin.

The case announced on April 13 is a middle-aged woman from Kleberg County, which is believed to be a community spread case, however she did have close contact with out-of-town visitors, Kleberg County and City of Kingsville officials said.

The two cases announced on April 16 were a middle-aged man and a middle-aged woman from Kleberg County, as well.

Although the cases were unrelated, both the man and woman were being treated at a local area hospital, officials said.

The woman's case is considered to be community spread, however she also had close contact with out-of-town visitors.

The man's case is a confirmed community spread


Texas Department of State Health Services is monitoring the condition of all four of the most recent positive cases, officials said.

Officials said if any community members had contact with any of these individuals, they will be directly notified by Region 11 Texas Department of State Health Services personnel.

With the increase of positive results, Kleberg County Judge Rudy Madrid said at this week's Kleberg County Commissioners meeting that residents should continue to stay vigilant to limit any possible spread of the virus in the county.

"Right now, I want to make it very clear, we're not anywhere near out of the woods right, so now is not the time to let our guard down," Madrid said. "We can't leave our folks vulnerable. We need to keep our guard up."

Madrid said he wants the county to continue to follow both the city and county stay-at-home orders and to continue to follow precautions to keep the community safe.

The Kleberg County and City of Kingsville regional joint testing facility at Dick Kleberg Park is still operating under its new hours of operation from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Thursdays. Testing is done by referral and appointment only after contacting a healthcare provider.

If residents do not have a healthcare provider in the area, they may call the Texas Department of State Health Services regional screening office at (956) 423-0130 or Christus Spohn Hospital Kleberg at (361) 595-9746 for instructions and any referrals.

Short-term HOT tax relief OK'd

Local hotel operators in Kingsville can apply for relief in paying the Hotel Occupancy Tax after city commissioners voted to implement a temporary deferral plan for those who need it.

Kingsville Tourism Director Janine Reyes presented the deferral plan to city commissioners on April 13, after one property was unable to pay for the HOT tax in February "in order to continue to cover current expenses," at their hotel, and a second property also did not make payments.

However, the reason the second property was unable to make any payments was unclear.

Reyes said in a phone interview last week, despite a high number of revenues heading into March of more than $250,000, which were on pace to pass the Fiscal Year 2018-19 record number of about $648,000, the novel coronavirus pandemic has already caused a decline in revenues because of fewer guests staying in the area.

The current rate hoteliers pay is seven percent of their revenues with penalties added for failure

to report or unpaid tax after the due date, which Reyes said is always the 20th day of the following month.

The first penalty is a five percent addition to the amount already owed after 30 days, and 10 percent added to the amount if it is unpaid after 61 days.

The new deferral plan will waive the late fees for hoteliers as long as delinquent properties adhere to the terms of their plan.

The plan allows properties to report taxes due within specific deadlines and allows for hoteliers to set their payment plan with the City's Finance Department.

The plan will require a 25 percent down payment of the total funds owed at the due date, and the deferral of the remaining 75 percent to paid within a 90day period.

Hoteliers will also have to show a need for the deferral plan, based on a 50 percent decrease in revenue from the first quarter of FY 2019-20 to the current month.

All late fees on payments approved for the plan will be waived as long as the property owners are in compliance and meeting their payment plan deadlines with the city finance department.

All hoteliers must be current on payments for the HOT tax before they apply for the plan.

At the April 13 meeting, City Manager Mark McLaughlin said the deferral plan is not automatic for all hoteliers.

"(Hoteliers) must request this, it's not a blanket," McLaughlin said. "We expect everybody to pay on time normally, unless they come and talk to us about it."

Love in time of COVID-19

Since their engagement more than two years ago, Julissa Hernandez and Ricky Gutierrez Jr. had the perfect wedding date in mind.

"We set the date for April 18 the following day (after our engagement)," Julissa said.

Unfortunately, the threat of COVID-19 disrupted their planned nuptials as social distancing guidelines were put into place that discouraged large gatherings. But even with all of the hurdles placed in the couple's path, Julissa said they were determined to tie the knot on April 18.

"For us, that date was set in stone," she said. "And we always kept our faith that whatever happened was in God's hands."

Julissa and Ricky first met in 2011 at a high school powerlifting meet in Calallen.

"Ricky went to Bishop High School, and I was going to H.M. King," Julissa said. "Ricky was a powerlifter, and I was a manager."

Julissa said following his lift, she and Ricky locked eyes and "it was an instant connection."

"And at that point, I went up to him and asked him for his number," she said. "And it just went on from there."

After high school, Ricky and Julissa attended college at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, with both pursuing degrees in criminal justice. Ricky then went on to become an Alice firefighter, while Julissa works as a juvenile probation officer for Kleberg County.

On Dec. 16, 2017, during his father's birthday party, Ricky surprised Julissa with a wedding proposal while dressed as Santa Claus.

"And the next day, we were already planning our wedding," Julissa said.

Julissa said wedding preparations were going to plan and they were on target for April 18 until mid-March when the COVID-19 pandemic led to school closure, travel restrictions and social gathering limitations.

"I knew that we were in for a long run with (COVID-19) and were no longer 100 percent certain that the wedding was going to happen," she said.

The first hurdle came shortly after when their original venue for the wedding, Saints Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church in Corpus Christi, had to be postponed because of the virus.

Undaunted, Julissa and Ricky reached out to their priest for the ceremony, Fr. Joseph Lopez, to arrange for a ceremony to be held at his church, St. Gertrude Parish in Kingsville.

"Father Lopez is a family friend," Julissa said.

The next obstacle was obtaining a marriage license, which Julissa said almost didn't happen in time for the wedding.

"At the beginning of April, I had turned in the paperwork (for the license) to Kleberg County," she said. "But then Kingsville got their first confirmed case of the coronavirus, and at that point they cut everything off and I was told that I'd have to wait to get my marriage license."

"It was a very devastating moment, to know that piece of paper was all we needed for the wedding to happen," she added.

Thankfully, Julissa said they were finally able to obtain the license just days before the wedding.

"After that, I knew that we were meant to do this," she said.

With the wedding now locked in place, Julissa and Ricky—along with their families—spent the leadup to Saturday making sure they would be following social distancing guidelines for the ceremony.

Julissa said cutting the guest list down from nearly 450 people to just 10 was "really hard," which included naming a new best man and maid of honor.

"My sister-in-law (Catherine Gutierrez) became my maid of honor, and Ricky's best man was one of my brothers (Marc Montes)," she said. "No friends, not a lot of family, just our parents, our siblings and

the priest."

In addition, everybody inside the church, from the bride and groom to the priest, had to wear protective facemasks throughout the ceremony. But despite all of the restrictions, Julissa said the wedding itself turned into something "absolutely beautiful."

"Honestly, I wouldn't change anything," she said. "It was very beautiful, very intimate and very memorable."

Fr. Lopez said the ceremony was "one of the most amazing wedding I've ever done in my 18 years as a priest."

While the wedding itself was very intimate, unbeknownst to the bride and groom a special surprise was waiting just outside the church as friends and family waited inside their vehicles for the newlyweds.

"The minute those doors opened and we walked out, we were in complete shock," Julissa said.

Also outside the church were a small Mariachi group—spread out from each other as they played— and a drone flying overhead to record video of the special moment. As the band played and the crowd honked their horns, Ricky and Julissa shared their first dance as a married couple in the courtyard.

"Even though we were all spread out and far apart from each other, it felt like we were all together in that one moment," Julissa said. "And to have a moment like that during this pandemic, it was just so epic."

Ricky said the wedding was "the best day of my life."

"It couldn't have gone any better for me and Julissa," he said. "I married the love of my life in the eyes of our God, our parents and our siblings. It was amazing."

With the wedding now behind them, Julissa and Ricky said they still plan on holding a "recreation" ceremony for all of their friends and family once COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted.

"We set a date in August," she said.

County safety order extended

The Kleberg County stay-at-home order has been extended through April 30 at 11:59 p.m., county commissioners voted unanimously at Monday's regular meeting.

Kleberg County Judge Rudy Madrid said he wanted to make sure the community understood that by extending the order to be in-line with that of the City of Kingsville, both are "united" in their efforts to limit the possible spread of the novel coronavirus.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced his latest executive orders on April 17, which are the beginning steps to reopen Texas and include "retail-to-go," the opening of state parks and lessening restrictions on hospital functions.

Abbott said additional plans to reopen the state will be announced on April 27, and will continue into May "when it is it is determined that the infection rate continues to decline and when testing capabilities are sufficient to test and contain outbreaks

of the virus."

Madrid said although the state government can "loosen the reigns," he is not going to agree with the move in the coming days.

"It will still be up to local governments to agree with it and I personally will not agree with it while these (positive cases of coronavirus) are still going up," Madrid said. "Our numbers more than doubled last week. I'm not in the position where I'm going to start talking about putting our hands down and I do not want to send out that message to the county (...) And I can assure you that over the next couple of weeks is when we're going to peak."

Madrid said that he was advised by officials at Christus Spohn Hospital Kleberg to strongly recommend county residents to use facemasks, though they will not make it mandatory "because the county, nor the state, has masks to provide to the entire community."

On April 17, Abbott announced his executive orders aiming to reopen Texas businesses and parks, limit restrictions on surgeries in hospitals and effectively close schools for the remainder of the school year.

One of the orders is allowing for retail stores to operate as "retail-to-go" that is set to begin on April 24.

Stores will be allowed to provide curbside services like with other local businesses currently providing food.

The second order reopened state parks on Monday, with some restrictions for park goers.

All visitors are required to wear masks and stick to social distancing guidelines to remain six feet apart.

Abbott said he is also asking that visitors restrict any group gatherings.

A third order concerns hospital operations, and went into effect on April 21.

The order allows some nonessential surgeries to be performed at hospitals as long as there is an adequate amount of personal protective equipment at the facility.

The hospitals must also have at least 25-percent availability in their facilities to help with treating novel coronavirus patients.

The final executive effectively shut the doors of all Texas schools for the 2019-20 academic year, in order to limit the possible exposure of the novel coronavirus any further.