In response to a continued increase in new coronavirus cases and related deaths, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff on Wednesday extended the order mandating masks inside area businesses and in instances where people are unable to appropriately socially distance.

The order, set to expire at midnight Wednesday, will continue until Aug. 12, as the County still has “a lot of work ahead of us” to quell the spread, Wolff said at a briefing. In Bexar County, 21,546 people have tested positive since the beginning of the pandemic, an increase of 479.

Kyle Coleman, Bexar County’s emergency management coordinator for the last 30 years, died Tuesday with COVID-19 symptoms, Wolff said, and Coleman’s wife hopes his death will “bring attention to the importance of wearing masks and practicing safe distance.”

Seven new deaths were reported Wednesday, raising the toll to 208.

“It’s hard getting through this, and [without community support] it’s not going to work,” Wolff said Wednesday. “The number of people in [intensive care] and on ventilators is at the highest level reported, which is really scary.”

Of the 1,231 COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized, 438 are in intensive care and 274 are on ventilators. 

While there has been a slight dip in the numbers of hospitalizations for the second day in a row in Bexar County, the number of patients in intensive care and on ventilators continues to rise, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said. 

Although 43 percent of ventilators are still available, only 11 percent of staffed hospital beds are, leaving the hospital system under continued severe stress, Nirenberg said. 

Some people who contract coronavirus have symptoms that linger over a “very long period of time” and may need to be on ventilators over extended periods, said Dr. Paul Hancock, chief medical officer with Methodist Healthcare. 

“We are seeing an increase in the number of patients that are in intensive care who use ventilators,” Hancock said. “Some of those patients may have been in the hospital for a few days and then progressed to [an intensive level of care]” because they are failing to improve on their own. 

 Hancock said that with viral illnesses, there is an array of symptoms involved as people individually react to the virus, and because COVID-19 is a new virus “we are still learning and developing experience, but it’s very clear that many patients don’t have immediate recovery.” 

Despite hospitals nearing capacity, Hancock stressed that area emergency rooms still can care for people with other ailments and chronic health conditions, including stroke and heart conditions, and it’s important for them to continue to go to area hospitals for treatment. 

“People need to keep in mind that if they’re concerned about a health problem … they certainly don’t need to delay coming to the emergency room,” Hancock said. “Anybody who needs acute medical care, we’re in great shape to continue to [provide] that care right now.”

Roseanna Garza

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