The local COVID-19 death toll on Tuesday surged from 455 to 519 as local health officials confirmed more July fatalities.

Occurring between July 6 and 24, the 53 deaths are part of an ongoing discrepancy in deaths reported by the State and local authorities.

The State’s death toll is higher because medical examiner’s offices, health care facilities, and funeral homes report deaths to the Texas Department of State Health Services first. The San Antonio Metropolitan Health District then obtains the death certificates and checks for a positive coronavirus diagnosis and Bexar County residence.

There are still 256 deaths under investigation, officials said. 

In addition to the 53 deaths, 11 more COVID-19 deaths were reported on Tuesday. 

Of the 720 COVID-19 patients area hospitals are treating, 317 are in intensive care, and 216 are on ventilators. 

On Monday, health officials lowered the area risk level for COVID-19 from severe/critical to steady based on a composite of seven health indicators

Ages and ethnicities of deceased

23 Hispanic men

23 Hispanic women

10 white men

7 white women

1 Black man

*Ages 30 to 99 (ages not disaggregated)

Those indicators include the positivity rate, doubling rate, testing capacity, contact tracing, hospital trends, hospital stress, and the decline in cases. Of the seven stats, the positivity rate and hospital stress are listed as critical, the most severe risk level. But contact tracing and testing capacity are rated as safe, the lowest risk level.

Three of those indicators are used to inform local guidance on school reopenings: the 14-day decline in cases, positivity rate, and doubling rate.

Officials said Bexar County remains at high risk as schools look toward a return to in-person instruction. Officials are looking to see a sustained 14-day decline in the number of positives, decreased positivity rate, and a decline in the rate at which cases double, with a goal of 36 days. 

Only the doubling rate is at an acceptable level, so Metro Health is still recommending against in-person schooling, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said. Get updates on what local school districts are doing as the school year begins.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said residents need to continue to pay attention to the science regarding coronavirus and how it is spread. New information shows that “the virus is affecting younger people at higher levels than what we’ve seen in the past,” which is particularly concerning for those in high school, Wolff said.  

“We need to continue to bring this down if you want your kids back in school,” Wolff said. “Help us get through this over the next two to three weeks, and hopefully we’ll be able to start school in a safe manner.”

In early July, about a quarter of those tested for coronavirus were turning up positive; now the positivity rate is closer to 12 percent, said Colleen Bridger, assistant city manager and interim director of Metro Health. Fewer people are being tested, though fewer people are getting sick, Bridger said. 

But officials have continued to remind viewers during the nightly coronavirus briefing that although the situation has improved, Bexar County is not out of the woods.

“We’re really at this precarious state right now where we’re trending in the right direction,” Bridger said. “And we’re also heading toward schools reopening, toward Labor Day, toward lots of family gatherings. So we could flip that switch and head right back to a positivity rate of 20 and 30 percent, and we don’t want that.”

Roseanna Garza

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