Matt Pierce Briscoe
It was pretty much made clear at a joint city of Corpus Christi/Nueces Country press conference on Monday that Nueces Country beaches would remain open for the upcoming holiday weekend despite the ongoing and increasingly concerning rise in COVID-19 cases. Meanwhile, not far to our south, Cameron County announced Monday that effective at 7 p.m., Tuesday, June 30, all County Parks and County Beach access area will be closed.
Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. ordered the closure of county parks and beach access areas until 12:01 a.m. on July 13.
Why is that you say? Corpus Christi City Manager Peter Zanoni had an answer to the question.
“They said they’re not going close the beaches,” Corpus Christi City Manager Peter Zanoni said. “We can’t close them if they don’t let us close them.”
But that statement seems to pass the blame towards the state, even though Governor Abbott maintained that beaches were not the primary cause of the problem. Many disagree and while there are die-hard beach goers who would argue that closing the beaches for public health and safety is violating their rights, the rules of government do seem to allow plenty of flexibility for city and county officials to make that tough call.
Local officials say that they can’t stop people from coming to the beach. Even though Independence Day weekend crowds mirror Memorial Day, the city and county seem to favoring business profits and tax revenue over public health. They can encourage people to be safe, they say.
But beyond that local officials do in fact have a way to limit both local and out-of-town beach traffic at restaurants, grocery stores and others places that holiday seekers tend to frequent—they can close the beaches and parks.
The Texas General Land Office has insisted that the agency is giving local government officials the flexibility to do what they need to do in order to keep their communities safe. Sources at the General Land Office Monday night confirmed that.
Cameron County, which instituted a beach and park closure on Monday tallied 2,281 cumulative cases on Monday. That’s only 161 cases more than right here in Nueces County, which is seeing the highest per capita increase in COVID-19 cases anywhere in the state.
Like Nueces County, Galveston County is risking lives for money and keeping their beaches open even though the Texas General Land Office is working with local officials to give them the flexibility that they need. That doesn’t sit well with some folks.
“They know damn good and well if you keep the beaches open people from San Antonio and the Hill Country will come,” says Corpus Christi resident Michael Cantu. “I mean you have enough people here willing to ignore the rules and go out there.”
Cantu isn’t wrong. Robert and Patricia Curnow who live in the Boerne area say that they plan on coming to Corpus Christi because so much of the river activity in the Hill Country is restricted or shutdown due to COVID-19.
“We will be there,” Patricia said on Monday. “If you ain’t scared then we ain’t either.”
They aren’t alone. Blake Collins is a San Antonio College student who studies at UTSA. He said that originally he and a group of about 18 friends had planned to go tubing the Frio near Concan, but with the closure of tubing operators and heavy restriction and closures on many county parks in the Hill Country, they are coming to the last bastion of recreation—Nueces County.
“You people got balls,” Collins said. “Don’t close the beaches! We have a chance for Spring Break Part Two. This thing doesn’t scare me or anybody that I know.”
They already have an Air BnB booked for 6 days on North Padre.
The popular internet site that Collins and his friends booked their short-term rental through actually showed limited short term availability for the days of July 2-5. So did the alternative site VRBO. As it is currently, there is no restriction on short-term rentals or hotels in place like there once had been.
The city of Corpus Christi began lifting restrictions on short-term rentals that had once been in place to help initially slow the spread. However on April 28, short-term rentals were once again allowed to take reservations from out-of-town visitors—and they still are.
But there lies the part of the problem. Local officials trusted in the community as Governor Abbott reopened the state. What seems like to be “back in the day,” County Judge Barbara Canales had this stern warning and wishful thinking.
“We are going to have to take on more personal responsibility,” she said. “I know we can do it. We know how important it is for our economy to survive. It is incumbent for us to take this seriously.”
That didn’t happen.
At that very same press conference Corpus Christi Mayor Joe McComb said this:
“If the numbers don’t make an upturn, we will expand to fifty percent capacity in two weeks,” he said. “If the numbers go in the wrong direction, well, we don’t want to get back into another order. You’ve been wonderful so far. We continue to request your participation in staying safe.”
Again, that didn’t happen and many area residents just carried on like everything was just like it was before—safe, sound and healthy. And there was another part of the problem.
Corpus Christi and Nueces County have found themselves in more than just a political and social pickle. People without a doubt do not want to be restricted, but just like a hurricane or tropical storm, it sometimes just has to be done for public health and safety. On Monday it seemed like local government officials were still hanging onto the Governor’s philosophy of “as we do more testing the number will increase.” But just like Gov. Abbott recently admitted on television stations across the state—he made a mistake and he recognizes it.
There isn’t much doubt that locals and holiday seekers alike will be crowding Corpus Christi area beaches over the upcoming holiday weekend. Beyond that the number of COVID-19 cases will very likely rise again along with the death rate—just like it did before. Then, the ultimate question will remain: who will bear that burden of knowing that more may could have been done and they chose not to do it?
That might end up falling on all of us one way or another.