OPINION: Getting out: Public events increasing, but caution still suggested

It began slowly but steadily: A museum reopened here, a festival was held there. Little by little, residents everywhere are taking back their lives from the COVID-19 pandemic.

We can’t think of a better reason to celebrate, or a better way than to revisit local events and venues that we might have forgone in the past two years.

To be sure, state officials’ unenforceable mandates to end all COVID-19 precautions were intended to bring normalcy back to our lives, even as they met with criticism and resistance. Local officials have largely shown prudence in simply not scheduling public events until they thought it was safe to do so.

They’ve decided that it’s time. And it appears they’re right; so far we don’t know that any major gathering in the Rio Grande Valley that has become a “super spreader,” in which large numbers of attendees have caught the virus or other communicable illness.

Businesses led the way in the reopening of society. Stores extended their hours, restaurants started admitting more people and entertainment venues such as movie theaters started selling tickets again.

By now, most events calendars are filling up; Payne and Bert Ogden Arenas have full slates of entertainers who are back on tour after sitting out the worst part of the pandemic. Even on a smaller scale, cities are bringing back community events. Brownsville, for example, recently held its first CycloBia bike-and-walk event, and several Valley cities and counties held Night Out gatherings in the past few weeks.

Certainly, COVID-19 continues to hang over our communities and every public thing we do. Our hospitals remain at or near capacity and new cases are reported every day. Fortunately, Valley residents have been among the best in the state with regard to getting vaccinated against it, and we continue to see healthy numbers of people continue to wear facemasks and take other precautions.

This should give officials more confidence in deciding whether or not to hold major annual events such as Charro Days in Brownsville and the Texas Citrus Fiesta in Mission that were placed on hiatus during the worst part of the pandemic. Brownsville’s Gladys Porter Zoo has not announced the return of its Boo at the Zoo Halloween event, although the 27th Annual Rio Grande Birding Festival in Harlingen already has been announced. McAllen, Edinburg and other Valley cities also are releasing information regarding their holiday parades and related events.

After more than a year of cancellations, closings and stay-at-home orders, it’s safe to assume that most Valley residents could use a day or night out. Some might even miss the related crowds and traffic they might have cursed in years gone by.

Of course, the risk of catching COVID-19 remains very real, and people are encouraged to continue taking all safety precautions they can when they go out. However, we’re sure that most people will agree that the need to revive our mental health and get back to our normal lives is just as important as ensuring our physical health.

So with events ranging from border football battles to major community festivals returning in the coming months, we invite everyone to get out and celebrate having survived this pandemic.

We’ve earned it.