EDINBURG — Hidalgo County Health Authority Dr. Ivan Melendez extended the county’s mask mandate for local schools Thursday despite indicating earlier this week that the mandate would likely be allowed to lapse.

Melendez told the Edinburg school board Tuesday that he felt pandemic levels in the area had receded to a point where ending the mandate was safe, and reiterated his optimism about COVID-19 conditions in an interview with KRGV on Wednesday.

Texas Department of State Health Services Communicable Disease Manager Mauro Ruiz reported earlier this week that for the most part, pandemic trends are decreasing across the entirety of Region 11, which includes the Rio Grande Valley.

“We have to be fair and we have to maintain credibility,” Melendez told the Edinburg school board Tuesday. “And so just like we…had the courage to mandate, I think now it’s time to have courage to back off because that’s what the numbers indicated.”

Judging by a statement released by the county Thursday, local education leaders felt differently.

It stated that during a meeting Wednesday area superintendents “overwhelmingly” supported continuing the mandate and attributed lower rates on campuses to masks.

Doctors consulted by the county agreed, it said.

“Based on all the information I have gathered, including polling 135 doctors and many area superintendents, 100 percent of those polled want the mandate to continue,” Melendez said during an hour-long meeting Wednesday with area superintendents, according to the release. “The mandate should be continued until vaccines are available to everyone.”

The county’s mandate has been in place since early August, and the majority of local school districts have opted to adhere to it.

Thursday’s release noted that despite Melendez’s optimism at cases trending downward, COVID-19 remains the most significant health problem for school children and that masks play a role in preventing those numbers from rising.

A total of 3,704 students and staff had been infected with COVID-19 since the mask mandate was put in place, the release noted, infections that have sometimes resulted in staff deaths.

Melendez said Tuesday that several children in the county have died from the virus.

Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez voiced his support for Melendez’s decision in the release.

“While the number of infections among students and staff appear to be slowing, I urge caution not only among our schools, but the community at large,” the county judge said. “This order gives area schools the flexibility they need to exercise caution, while giving them the option to opt out of the mandate at any time of their choosing.”

Area superintendents also began to voice their opinion on the extension Thursday.

“We greatly appreciate the support of the County Judge and our Hidalgo County health officials in helping us create as safe and healthy learning environment as possible,” Mission CISD Superintendent Carol G. Perez wrote in a release. “As masks have been proven to be an effective tool in slowing the spread of COVID-19, their continued use will be of great benefit to our students and staff until vaccines are available for our younger children, ages 5-11.”


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