Mayor Ron Nirenberg (left) and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff will kick off CityFest 2020 with Robert Rivard, editor and publisher of the San Antonio Report. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Bexar County has logged 554 positive coronavirus cases as of Wednesday, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said at a news conference.

Currently, 84 people are hospitalized for COVID-19. Of those, 50 are in intensive care and 41 are on ventilators, Nirenberg said. He added that the Bexar County area has enough beds and equipment to handle the caseload.

“We have over 2,000 beds available, which is more than 43 percent of all hospital beds in Bexar County,” he said. “This is a result of hospitals canceling elective procedures. We also have 509 ventilators available. That’s roughly 73 percent of the available ventilators in Bexar County hospitals. That’s all good news.”

The death toll rose to 20 on Wednesday with reports of two additional deaths at Southeast Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, which had nearly 70 positive COVID-19 cases in residents. Eight staff members at the center also tested positive.

The City also announced Wednesday that about 270 employees working in departments funded by the local hotel occupancy tax (HOT), such as the Alamodome and the Henry B. González Convention Center, will be furloughed. Those employees will still get their regular paychecks from April 9 to April 22 and the furloughs take effect April 23. With business closures and tourism drastically reduced because of the coronavirus, other HOT-dependent agencies will take financial hits as well, Nirenberg said. 

“There is going to be a 20 percent reduction across the board on arts agencies [funded by the hotel occupancy tax],” Nirenberg said. “That way the burden is shared, and it doesn’t hit certain agencies. We hope we can weather the storm. But obviously because of the HOT tax revenue loss, it’s hard to keep the funding.”

Nirenberg said he hopes to avoid more furloughs or layoffs in the future.

“It’s through some very strong leadership over the last 15 to 20 years to maintain a strong fiscal position – that we can be in a position where we can keep our employees and organization whole as we go through a very difficult, turbulent revenue period with this crisis,” he said.

Though the County has not faced the same revenue loss as San Antonio, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said the County is preparing for its financial future by implementing austerity measures. The county manager instituted a hiring freeze and halted discretionary spending on Tuesday. 

“We’re tightening up and preparing ourselves for a very difficult year next year,” Wolff said.

Funding for social service agencies that address issues such as domestic violence and child abuse will still be prioritized, Nirenberg said. He pointed to a nearly 20 percent spike in family violence calls last week.

“We’re going to do everything we can to protect funding and protect those services, because the need for those services has only increased as a result of the crisis,” he said.

City Council is expected to approve an extension to the stay-at-home order on Thursday. The extension would limit activities and keep nonessential businesses closed until April 30. The extension period mirrors Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order that mandates many of the same things.

“In a perfect world, we’d be allowed to lift orders sooner than later … but we’ve got to make sure we’re through the difficult part of the pandemic and we start to see successful decreases in cases, which we aren’t even close to yet.” Nirenberg said.

In the meantime, Wolff encouraged residents to continue practicing social distancing and good hygiene to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

“I know this has been a difficult time for all of us – this separation and staying at home,” he said. “We’re human and we’re social animals. We’re used to hugging each other, patting each other on the back, giving each other a kiss, holding each other’s hands. We can’t do that now. 

“It’s even strange at home. When I arrive at home, I’m out a lot, so I have to be careful with [my wife] Tracy. Our way of showing affection is bumping each other’s back; that’s an unusual way to do it but that’s the only way to do it today.”

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.