COVID-19 shuts down part of sheriff’s office

RAYMONDVILLE — A coronavirus outbreak has led officials to close part of the Willacy County Sheriff’s Department and the county tax office.

At the Raymondville school district, COVID-19 cases led officials to cancel last Friday’s Bearkats football game along with this Friday’s game while requesting about 65 players, trainers and coaches quarantine.

Meanwhile, Raymondville Mayor Gilbert Gonzales and Raymondville schools Deputy Superintendent Ben Clinton are under quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19.

“It’s everywhere — I’m guessing it’s across the county,” Gonzales, who felt “minor flu symptoms” after receiving his test results Tuesday night, said Wednesday morning, referring to the outbreak. “I’ve been waiting for this — it’s here.”

Since Monday, officials have been monitoring the outbreak in which 11 sheriff’s department employees have tested positive for COVID-19, Frank Torres, the county’s emergency management coordinator, said.

“The issue came up Monday morning that we might have multiple people being out,” Torres said. “We have a lot of personnel that are out because of the outbreak. They’re either waiting for results or have tested positive. We have several deputies who have tested positive or are awaiting results.”

Now, the Raymondville Police Department and the county constable’s office are helping sheriff’s deputies patrol the vast rural county, Torres said.

“Out of an abundance of caution and to try to control the spread, we have sent everyone home and kept a skeleton crew to make sure the sheriff’s department continues to offer services to the community and we’ve made arrangements with our law enforcement partners — the local police department and constables — to make sure we have law enforcement coverage in the county,” Torres said.

Gonzales said a sheriff’s department employee was the source of the outbreak.

Meanwhile, officials are monitoring the county jail’s inmates for virus symptoms, Torres said.

“To the best of our knowledge, none of our inmates have shown any signs or symptoms,” he said. “Out of an abundance of caution, we’re increasing monitoring of all our inmates.”

Torres said Raymondville police dispatchers are handling telephone switchboards.

The Sheriff’s Department’s front offices will remain closed for 10 days, he said.

The COVID-19 outbreak marks the Sheriff’s Department’s second this year.

In early June, a jail outbreak infected 24 jailers and inmates.

At the county’s administration building, officials have closed the tax office after a clerk tested positive for COVID-19, Treasurer Ruben Cavazos said.

Meanwhile, two or three city employees have tested positive, Gonzales said, adding officials were disinfecting City Hall, which has been closed to the public for months.

At the Raymondville school district, Clinton and a Raymondville Early College High School staff member associated with the Bearkats football team tested positive for COVID-19 last week, leading officials to cancel last Friday’s football game along with this Friday’s game while requesting about 65 players, trainers and coaches quarantine.

Clinton said he tested positive on Oct. 13, adding he had not been on campus after his contact with the person suspected of infecting him during the previous weekend.

“After learning I came in contact with a person who may have had COVID-19, I took a rapid test on Tuesday, Oct. 12,” Clinton, who said he’s been “symptom-free” after experiencing “mild symptoms” on Oct. 13 and 14, stated. “When the results came back positive, I began an isolation period per CDC guidelines. To be clear, I did not catch COVID-19 on school premises and I have not been on any campus while infected.”

Later in the week, officials tested staff members and students associated with the athletics department after the high school staff member tested positive on Oct. 15, he said.

“Contact tracing coordinated with the Department of State Health Services determined that the staff member likely became infected through contact outside of the district,” Clinton stated. “Those determined to be in close contact were instructed to remain at home for a minimum of 14 days to stop the possible spread of the virus at school.”

On Oct. 16, district officials offered rapid COVID-19 testing “to everyone associated with the athletics department,” Clinton said.

After testing 58 students and staff members, a student was found COVID-19 positive on Oct. 16, he said.

COVID-19 cases involving the staff member and student associated with the athletics program has led officials to request about 65 football players, trainers and coaches quarantine, Clinton said.

“In coordination with DSHS and in an abundance of caution, Raymondville ISD has advised all staff members and students who attended football practice to stay home for the recommended quarantine period,” Clinton stated, adding practices will resume Oct. 28.

Meanwhile, officials canceled high school classroom instruction from Oct. 16 to Oct. 19 to conduct “deep cleaning,” he stated

The district’s three COVID-19 cases have not led to further infections, Superintendent Stetson Roane stated.

“The district is committed to providing the safest learning environment for our students but we cannot control activities and situations outside of school,” he stated. “We will continue to work closely with our parents to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus in our school and community. Through Raymondville ISD’s focus on health and safety, the district continues to have zero confirmed cases of COVID-19 transfer in our school facilities.”

fdelvalle@valleystar.com