Three more inmates COVID-19 positive at Willacy jail

Outbreak leads to 12 jailers, 21 prisoners contracting virus

RAYMONDVILLE — Three more inmates have tested positive as officials continue to work to contain the Willacy County Jail’s coronavirus outbreak.

On Tuesday, the test results boosted the jail’s total number of infected inmates to 12, Frank Torres, the county’s emergency management coordinator, said.

Meanwhile, he said, 21 inmates have tested negative for the COVID-19 virus, with three test results pending.

The latest batch of results found no new positive cases among jailers while three others have been isolated pending results, Torres said, adding seven jailers have tested negative.

Earlier this week, 12 jailers tested positive for the virus.

“It could have been a lot worse,” Torres said, referring to the jail’s staff.

Now, Torres is waiting for results following the testing of deputies along with the sheriff’s department’s administrative staff.

“The administrative staff and the deputies have regular contact with the jail staff,” he said. “The risk is lower but it’s still there. We’re keeping our hopes up that the rest are negative.”

Meanwhile, health officials found five Raymondville police officers had tested negative for the virus, Chief Uvaldo Zamora said, adding he’s awaiting seven more results.

“As long as we get those negative results, we’re happy,” he said.

On June 1, officials tested about 43 sheriff’s department workers and 12 Raymondville police patrolmen and detectives who help transfer inmates to the jail.

Then last Thursday, officials tested the inmates.

More than a week after the outbreak, state health officials are investigating its source, tracking the virus’ infectious steps.

“One of our goals is how it initiated,” Torres said. “Contact tracing is happening now.”

Community cases climbing

Meanwhile, health officials are finding more new cases in this rural farming county whose total number of COVID-19 cases more than doubled to 45 in about a week.

On Tuesday, officials found three new cases in the community, with two men in their 20s testing positive along with a woman in her 40s.

At City Hall, Mayor Gilbert Gonzales urged residents to practice social distancing and wear facial coverings to try to stop the outbreak from spreading into the community.

“Citizens, please protect yourselves, protect your families, protect others around you,” he said.

Across the county, the state health department will continue testing residents for the COVID-19 virus free of charge through Friday.

Officials are planning to set up more testing sites next week, Torres said.

Officials isolate infected inmates

At the jail with a 94-bed capacity, Maj. Andres Maldonado said infected inmates have been isolated from those who have tested negative for the virus.

Last week, Torres said the county had hired a company to “deep-clean and decontaminate” the building whose interior conduction limits contact between jailers and inmates.

Concerns virus could spread outside jail

In the community, Municipal Judge Felicita Gutierrez said many residents are concerned released inmates, who are requested to self-quarantine, could spread the virus.

Gutierrez said she’s giving personal recognizance bonds to defendants charged with misdemeanors to keep them out of the jail.

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.

State health department COVID-19 testing

• June 10 — Lyford Fire Station

• June 11 — Port Mansfield

• June 12 — Lasara

• June 13 — San Perlita Fire Station

fdelvalle@valleystar.com