The local COVID-19 death toll on Thursday climbed by 19, the most reported in a day since the coronavirus pandemic first claimed the life of a Bexar County resident in late March.

The Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office reported 13 COVID-19-related deaths on Thursday following postmortem testing for the virus on people who showed symptoms when they died but were not previously tested. The deaths occurred within the past three weeks.

The 13 deaths were reported alongside six deaths in local hospitals Thursday, bringing the death toll to 165.

The San Antonio Metropolitan Health District partnered with the medical examiner’s office to test people who disclosed COVID-19-related symptoms but were never hospitalized. Through the partnership, the local entities aimed to better understand the impact of the virus, Nirenberg said. Metro Health verifies the deaths to ensure no reporting is duplicated. 

Area hospitals typically report COVID-19-related deaths to Metro Health within four days, said Dr. Kenneth Davis, chief medical officer for Christus Health South Texas. 

As of Thursday, 35 percent of all hospital admissions in Bexar County were COVID-19-related. 

With 954 new cases of the coronavirus reported Thursday, the local caseload stands at 17,679. More than 1,200 are being treated at area hospitals. Of those hospitalized, 399 are in intensive care, and 231 are on ventilators. 

While there is still significant stress on the hospital system, Nirenberg said the acceleration of hospitalizations, intensive care patients, and ventilator use has started to slow, “which is a good sign.”

Eleven percent of hospital beds in Bexar County are currently available, and 45 percent of area ventilators are still available for use. 

Davis said that there is a need for more nurses with experience working in intensive care to be deployed to Bexar County to relieve staff at area hospitals. Christus hospitals would need an additional 190 nurses to fill the current need. 

Hospitals sent letters to the Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council (STRAC), a network of hospitals and first responders who maintain the regional trauma and emergency health care system for San Antonio and 22 surrounding counties. In the letters, they outlined their specific needs for treating COVID-19 patients, including nursing staff and personal protective equipment, Davis said. 

Nirenberg said that moving forward, Bexar County can expect to see more deaths because the severity of COVID-19 cases has increased along with the number of hospitalizations, in addition to the postmortem testing being done.

“We know that if you are intubated [because of] COVID-19, the survivability rate goes down dramatically,” Nirenberg said. “We hope and pray for those in the hospital, but these are very severe cases.”

The overflow hospital at Freeman Coliseum is currently furnished with 80 beds, but it can accommodate 200 should the need arise over the next few weeks, County Commissioner Justin Rodriguez said. 

“We are toeing a very dangerous line here of having to activate our hospital beds at Freeman,” Rodriguez said.

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.