Dr. Jose Vazquez (center), along with Rose Benavidez, the president of the Starr County Industrial Foundation, and Rio Grande City Manager Alberto Perez unveil the new location for the county’s drive-thru testing site during a news conference on June 4, 2020. (Monitor photo)

RIO GRANDE CITY — Starr County officials unveiled a new home for the drive-thru testing facility Thursday as the county hopes to ramp up testing in conjunction with the re-opening of the economy.

Their drive-thru testing facility is now located at Fort Ringgold Park in Rio Grande City after residing at the Starr County campus of South Texas College for over two months.

The expected re-opening of South Texas College and the costs associated with the tent used for the facility necessitated the need for the re-location, according to Dr. Jose Vazquez, the Starr County health authority.

The setup at STC was made possible with the help of Rose Benavidez, the president of the Starr County Industrial who is also vice chair of the STC board of trustees. At their new location, the county will be using a tent loaned out by Rio Grande City.

The actual testing will continue to be administered by Altru Diagnostics Inc., the company that the county has partnered with since the opening of their drive-thru facility in March.

Both the RT-PCR, or swab, tests and the rapid tests will be available at the site.

The swab tests are covered by health insurance but are also free to anyone without health insurance, under the sponsorship of the county.

The rapid tests, however, carry an out-of-pocket cost of $75.

So far, nearly 1,015 swab tests have been administered there along with nearly 6-700 rapid tests.

Rapid testing might play a role in the re-opening of the local economy, according to Rose Benavidez, the president of the Starr County Industrial Foundation.

“Everyone that’s been involved in this effort has known that in order for us to be able to mitigate a bit of the dangerous and very fatal results that COVID-19 can have, we have to have testing available and it has to be part of our re-opening,” she said.

At the industrial foundation, she said they’re working on finding ways to help small businesses re-open and stay open.

Benavidez added that among their priorities is ensuring that they have safety driven protocols in place and that they, potentially, make rapid testing a part of their strategy of building consumer confidence.

“Because we all know that yes, the economy’s important and we’re working to help business owners resolve the issues related to that, but we also know that that confidence will not come unless the residents and the customers feel safe,” she said.

Vazquez said that as tests become more accessible, they will continue to provide the service to their community to try to mitigate the effect of the disease there.

The county has seen an increase in positive cases over the last few weeks, confirming four more cases on Wednesday and one on Thursday, for a total of 43 cases, according to Vazquez.

Of those, 16 cases are active while 27 have recovered.

The increase in cases, Vazquez said, is directly related to the increase in testing but also to the relaxation of measurements that were implemented to try to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

“We need to tell the people one more time that this is not over,” Vazquez said. “That we need to keep exercising precautions and we are still recommending social distancing, the use of masks, frequent hand washing and avoiding crowded spaces.”