For the first time in months less than 10 percent of patients tested for COVID-19 in Bexar County are turning up positive. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The coronavirus positivity rate in Bexar County dipped to 9.9 percent on Monday, a measure that officials consider “very good news” when it comes to efforts to mitigate the impact of the virus. 

The positivity rate – the percentage of those tested for the novel coronavirus who test positive – is considered a key indicator of how localities are faring against the coronavirus. Calculated on a weekly basis, it was at 11 percent last week, and Mayor Ron Nirenberg said Monday marked “the first time the positivity rate has been below 10 percent since early June.”

The positivity rate in Bexar County was as high as 25 percent in early July, he said.

With 109 new coronavirus cases reported Monday, the total stands at 45,364 since the pandemic began. 

Speaking at a media briefing, Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff expressed concern that people might let their guard down ahead of the Labor Day weekend as the number of new coronavirus cases have declined over a 14-day period. 

With the three-day weekend approaching, they announced that city and county parks will be closed to the public starting Friday, Sept. 4, at 9 p.m. until Tuesday, Sept. 8. at 9 a.m.

“In May things were moving in the right direction, and we by and large let our guard down and things started to go in the wrong direction,” Nirenberg said, and that continued through the July 4 holiday, when the spike in cases prompted the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District to advise against reopening schools for in-person instruction.  

A safe Labor Day in which people observe social distancing, wear masks, and stay home, will help school campuses reopen “in a safe manner,” Nirenberg said.

Local hospitalization rates continue to improve, with 473 people currently being treated at area hospitals, down five from Sunday. Of those, 207 are in intensive care and 139 are on ventilators. However, officials said the hospital system continues to be under high stress.

Four more deaths were reported Monday, raising the overall death toll to 725. 

The seven-day moving average (the average number of positives within a 7-day period) in Bexar County increased only slightly to 148 on Monday, but continues to trend in the right direction, officials said. 

Dr. Golareh Agha, chief of informatics with the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, said that the city’s population demographics contribute to it having more reported deaths per capita than other Texas cities. 

Underlying health problems are a risk factor for COVID-19-related deaths, Agha said, and Bexar County carries “a heavier burden” than other places considering demographic factors such as age and health indicators. 

Hispanic people in Bexar County are disproportionately affected by COVID-19, accounting for more than 75 percent of cases despite being only 60 percent of the total population. 

Diabetes is the main underlying health condition for 60 percent of COVID-19-related hospitalizations in Bexar County, Agha said at a recent panel conversation on health disparities and COVID-19. 

When it comes to general risk level in the community as calculated by Metro Health, Bexar County moved to the “moderate” level on Monday, Nirenberg said. Officials determine the risk level by assessing changes in the number of positive cases, the positivity and doubling rates, and stress on the hospital system. 

“Our risk level in the community is gradually moving down,” Nirenberg said. “We must all do our part to keep it there.” 

Roseanna Garza

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