Bexar County reported 21 new coronavirus-related deaths on Thursday, bringing the area’s death count to 4,017.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg urged residents to take precautions such as wearing masks indoors and getting the coronavirus vaccine, as the vast majority of COVID-19 hospitalizations and nearly all deaths are among unvaccinated people.

“Every single one of those numbers is a mother and father, a grandmother and grandfather, someone who’s lost who is dearly missed,” Nirenberg said. “So 4,000 people in our community is a lot; one is a lot to any family, and we just want people to remember that. When it comes to what we need to do, there have been minor inconveniences that we go through to protect maybe one life from being lost — it puts it in proper perspective.”

While he’s not sure if COVID-19 is now the leading cause of death in Bexar County, it’s among the top causes, said Claude Jacob, director of the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District. 

“What we know is that this has been a colossal storm for most,” he said. “If you look at just the sheer numbers, in terms of the number of cases, we’re closing in on 300,000 reported cases of COVID over the last 18 months. That’s the Alamodome times four.”

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff lamented recent coronavirus deaths, calling them “totally unnecessary” as they happened after vaccines became widely available.

“That’s what’s so sad about what’s happening now,” he said. “Before we had vaccines, that was a different story, but now we’ve had them since January. … Just totally unnecessary.”

Wolff applauded President Joe Biden’s announcement of a vaccine mandate Thursday; it will require businesses with more than 100 employees to get vaccinated or face weekly COVID-19 testing.

Earlier Thursday, City Council voted to use federal funding to purchase $1 million worth of H-E-B gift cards as incentives for people to get vaccinated. Metro Health will begin distributing those gift cards by the end of September. Only people who finish getting their vaccinations at a Metro Health pop-up clinic and started the process after July 31 are eligible.

There are no current plans to retroactively reward people for getting vaccinated earlier, Nirenberg said. As of Thursday, 1.1 million Bexar County residents have been fully vaccinated and 1.4 million have been at least partially vaccinated. Those numbers translate to 70% and 86.5% of the eligible population, respectively. (Children younger than 12 cannot yet receive a coronavirus vaccine.)

“We want people to go get vaccinated because it’s the right thing to do, and they should feel good knowing that,” Nirenberg said. “We have to, unfortunately, place a little bit more resource and emphasis on folks who are just sitting it out, because they are at risk themselves and are placing the entire community and country at risk. But it is in our best interest to go reach those folks too and bring them in.”

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang is the local government reporter at the San Antonio Report.