Outbreak at City Hall: Mayor, judge among officials testing positive

RAYMONDVILLE — The area’s COVID-19 outbreak has hit City Hall, infecting some of the city’s top officials.

On Wednesday afternoon, officials evacuated City Hall, which had been closed to the public since June, after Mayor Gilbert Gonzales tested positive for the coronavirus.

Earlier this month, Municipal Judge Felicita Gutierrez, who has also tested positive for COVID-19, said two clerks with City Hall’s multi-service center have also tested positive.

Last week, City Manager Eleazar Garcia could not be reached for comment.

“It’s a pretty sad situation,” Gutierrez said. “It’s an outbreak that’s going on at City Hall and Willacy County.”

On Friday, health officials ordered City Hall closed until Nov. 2, Gonzales said.

“We continue to serve the citizens,” Gonzales said from his home, where he’s under quarantine. “We have experienced people working the city’s departments. Mr. G. (Garcia) and I are a phone call away.”

Meanwhile, Willacy County officials closed the Sheriff’s Department’s front offices after 11 employees tested positive for the virus, County Judge Aurelio Guerra stated Wednesday.

At the Raymondville school district, Deputy Superintendent Ben Clinton, a high school staff member and a student also tested positive, leading officials to cancel two Bearkats football games after requesting about 65 players, coaches and trainers quarantine.

Source of outbreak

Officials believe an employee sparked City Hall’s outbreak.

“Evidently, someone got contaminated and brought it to City Hall — City Hall’s been closed (to the public) for months,” Frank Torres, the county’s emergency management coordinator, said. “It has to be some of the people who tested positive brought it to City Hall.”

Working from home

Since Gonzales received his test results Tuesday night, he’s been working from home, he said.

“It’s about the same as when I’m at City Hall,” Gonzales said Friday. “I’m the mayor of Raymondville. I got elected to represent the people. Just because I’m quarantined at home doesn’t mean I can’t speak with my constituents. It’s my obligation to speak to my constituents and do whatever I can. If I’m on the phone, I always return calls.”

Like Gonzales, Gutierrez said she’s been working from home since she received her test results on Oct. 16.

“I’m still doing my judicial duties,” she said.

Gutierrez said clerks are delivering court documents to her mailbox.

“We’re communicating through the mail,” she said. “We sanitize everything.”

Meanwhile, she said she’s arraigning defendants via FaceTime.

“It needs to be done. They have their constitutional rights,” Gutierrez said. “I’m a present judge. I’m here every day. I have to set bond. I have to give them the opportunity to bond out.”

Symptoms

Gonzales, 67, who underwent a heart by-pass procedure about 18 months ago, said the coronavirus has done little to slow him down.

“It was like a chest cold — no fever. I had a minor headache,” he said, adding his doctor prescribed antibiotics. “I get up and take my meds. It’s like a religion. If I forget, I’ve got an alarm. Considering I’m an old fart, my immune system is still pretty good.”

Gutierrez, 68, said she started feeling better on Friday.

“A three-day period was really tough. Day 9 was pretty bad — a lot of congestion, headaches, fever,” she said, adding her fever reached 101. “The side-effects are lingering.”

School district cancels games, quarantines players

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 earlier this month, leading officials to cancel Oct. 16’s football game along with last 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.

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.

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 led officials to request about 65 football players, trainers and coaches quarantine, Clinton said.

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.

Like Gonzales and Gutierrez, Clinton, who said he’s been “symptom-free” after experiencing “mild symptoms” on Oct. 13 and 14, said he was working from home during his quarantine period.

fdelvalle@valleystar.com