City and County officials on Monday announced 14 additional residents tested positive for coronavirus, the lowest single-day total since March 30. Bexar County’s daily total has steadily decreased each day since April 17.

Bexar County has 1,029 total cases, and no new deaths were reported for the second consecutive day.

Monday marked the first day of a county-wide mandate for all residents 10 years and older to wear protective cloth masks when out in public where social distancing is mostly unavoidable, such as in the grocery store or on public transportation. Mayor Ron Nirenberg stressed that there was no grace period on the mask mandate and willful violators would face an unspecified level of punishment.

“Obviously, we don’t want to take those measures,” Nirenberg said of potential repercussions for not wearing a mask. “We need to remind folks they’re saving lives and potentially their own by wearing masks, but if someone’s gonna be egregiously violating this and defying it, then there are other measures to take place. Hopefully, people will use some common sense and put on masks.”

The county’s mask mandate was announced Friday after Gov. Greg Abbott declared a plan to restart the Texas economy. Even though Texas has seen fewer coronavirus cases than many other states, it also ended the weekend with the second-lowest rate of per capita testing in the country. Bexar County has performed 12,500 tests to date in a county of more than 2 million residents, which has led City and County officials to meticulously study the safest way to reopen local businesses.

Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff created the COVID-19 Health Transition Team, which consists of nine appointed medical and public health experts who are tasked with developing strategies for slowly reopening the local economy while continuing to combat the spread of coronavirus. Dr. Barbara Taylor, professor of infectious diseases and associate dean for the MD/MPH Program at UT Health San Antonio, chairs the team and said the group’s top priority is protecting human life.

“We know that health and economic wellbeing are tightly linked and that severe economic hardship undermines the health of our community as much as any disease,” Taylor said. “So our recommendation will be grounded in established public health literature and research and are communicated clearly and accessibly to the public.

“At the same time, we understand we are responding to a new threat. This is an emerging virus. We do not have all the answers and we will need to be flexible as we receive new information about the virus and how to fight it.”

Taylor noted the group was committed to protecting high-risk populations, including those with underlying medical conditions, low-income communities, communities of color, and those in group living situations, such as nursing homes.

The COVID-19 Health Transition Team will report its findings to City and County officials as well as inform the decisions made by an economic transition team, which Nirenberg and Wolff jointly will announce Tuesday.

Bexar County is already following Abbott’s lead in allowing hospitals to resume nonessential surgeries and retail stores to offer curbside pickup. State parks also opened to the public on Monday.

“The process of reopening our economy and finding our new normal will take time,” Taylor said. “This is a marathon and not a sprint to the finish line.”

Roseanna Garza

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