The Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office reports that 46 of its employees have tested positive for coronavirus since April 1 with about half that number learning they’ve fallen ill with the virus in the last two weeks.

And as cases of COVID-19 surge here, Hidalgo County Sheriff J.E. “Eddie” Guerra said his office has partnered with the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley for a mobile testing site for deputies and staff at the sheriff’s office.

“So, we partnered with UTRGV and now we have the medical staff from the detention side, RNs (registered nurses) and LVNs (licensed vocational nurses) that are capable of taking the swabs, so now we’re doing it ourselves,” Guerra said. “So now any Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office employee who has symptoms or comes in direct contact with someone who is COVID positive, we now have the ability to test them here and get the samples over to the lab and get the results back in 24 hours.”

Testing started Thursday morning and Guerra said it went smooth, with 19 people being tested.

There are 826 people who work for the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office, Guerra said, adding that about 140 have been tested so far.

In addition to the mobile testing, Guerra said his office takes numerous precautions in the effort to curb the spread of coronavirus since the pandemic reached the Rio Grande Valley.

“So, it has been challenging. The message has changed since the beginning as far as our precaution. Now we are treating every call that you’re going to come up with potentially somebody who is going to be positive for COVID,” Guerra said. “Before, we, our dispatchers, would ask questions and if we served and addresss with a control order our CAD system (Computer-Aided Dispatch) would catch it so we would know that somebody in that household was positive for COVID because our CAD would just have a signal on there to wear personal protective equipment.”

Now, deputies just assume that it’s possible someone is sick with coronavirus when they respond to calls.

“So we decided that we are just telling our staff that we just need to take all precautions and that’s why we’re doing our testing because our deputies are on the frontlines every day,” Guerra said. “We know that possible moving forward we will probably end up getting inmates that are going to be in our facility, that are going to be positive for COVID.”

As of now, the jail has only had one inmate test positive for COVID-19 — a man arrested by the Progreso Police Department on years-old warrants.

“As we continue to monitor not only in our jail, but also all the sheriff’s office buildings, including myself every morning. My temperature is checked when we enter the building. All staff temperatures are monitored. Those that have been in contact (with someone who has tested positive) must where an N95 or KN95 mask and their temperature has to be taken twice a day,” Guerra said.

Because deputies are critical infrastructure employees, Guerra said they must come to work even if they have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for coronavirus.

Guerra also disclosed that several Hidalgo County jail inmates being held in Starr County are being tested for COVID-19 because four Starr County inmates have tested positive.

If the inmates test negative, Guerra said they’ll be brought back to Hidalgo County.