RAYMONDVILLE — Officials are trying to contain an outbreak at the Willacy County Jail after five inmates and two more employees tested positive for the coronavirus.
The new cases come after two jailers tested positive for the COVID-19 virus earlier this week.
Now, officials are awaiting results after testing more than 50 county and city employees and about 30 inmates.
“There’s going to be an outbreak — I guarantee it,” Raymondville Mayor Gilbert Gonzales said Friday during an interview.
Meanwhile, state health officials are planning to test county residents free of charge next week, County Judge Aurelio Guerra said at a press conference late Friday afternoon.
“We have 40-plus employees who work there. A lot of them have families,” Frank Torres, the county’s emergency management coordinator, said, referring to sheriff’s department. “We do expect more cases.”
So far, tests conducted last week and Monday found a total of four jail employees have contracted the virus, Torres said.
On Monday, officials tested more than 40 jail employees and about 12 Raymondville police patrolmen and detectives who help transfer inmates to the jail.
On Thursday, officials tested about 35 inmates, Torres said, adding he expects to receive results as early as today.
“We’re just waiting for the results,” Maj. Andres Maldonado said at the sheriff’s office. “Everybody’s wondering — are we positive, are we negative?”
Inmate contact limited
Meanwhile, officials have “isolated” inmates “as much as possible” in cells holding “multiple people,” Torres said earlier this week.
Torres said officials are “trying to keep them apart as well as we can” while requiring inmates wear facial coverings.
On Friday, the inmate count stood at 35 in the jail with a 94-bed capacity, Maldonado said.
“Any inmate positive is isolated in cells by themselves,” Maldonado told reporters. “Any inmates who have not tested positive remain in their pods.”
The jail’s interior construction limits contact between staff and inmates, Torres said.
“Contact between inmates and jail staff is very, very minimal,” he said.
Earlier this week, he said, officials hired a company to disinfect the building.
“We have deep-cleaned and decontaminated the entire facility,” Torres said.
Community outbreak concerns
At the municipal court, Judge Felicita Gutierrez expressed concern released inmates could carry the virus into the community.
Meanwhile, officials have closed the jail to inmates’ visitors.
“All inmate visitation remains closed and all visitors will continue to be required to be screened,” a press release stated, adding officials will continue taking visitors’ temperatures.
Gutierrez said she is giving personal recognizance bonds to defendants charged with misdemeanors to keep them out of the jail.
Authorities will continue to transfer defendants charged with felonies to the jail, Torres said.
“If people get arrested and they’re felonies we’ll follow state judicial guidelines,” he said. “The county is not going to refuse to take someone who has to go to jail because they’ve committed a felony crime.”
Meanwhile, state health officials reported the county’s number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has climbed from 22 to 28.
State health department COVID-19 testing
• 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 8-13
• June 8-9 — Sebastian Fire Station
• June 10 — Lyford Fire Station
• June 11 — Port Mansfield
• June 12 — Lasara
• June 13 — San Perlita Fire Station