San Antonio and Texas are both seeing a record surge in new coronavirus cases as residents relax the measures that for months have helped flatten the curve.

On Tuesday, San Antonio Metropolitan Health District reported 436 new confirmed cases, the greatest single-day increase the city has seen since the virus began spreading locally in March. The new cases brought the total to 4,873, more than double the amount since May 21.

Also Tuesday, Texas saw the greatest increase in cases from one day to the next: 2,622. The number of people hospitalized also hit a record high of 2,326.

“We are in, by far, the worst crisis we have seen since this started,” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said at a Tuesday briefing.

And while the death toll in Bexar County remains unchanged since Monday at 89, officials say the acceleration in new cases accompanies more alarming trends:

  • Coronavirus’s load on the local hospital system has doubled compared to two weeks ago. On June 1, 93 people were in the hospital, with 39 in intensive care and 20 on ventilators. As of Tuesday, 212 people in Bexar County were hospitalized, with 82 in intensive care and 41 on ventilators.
  • Younger people are going to the hospital here than before. Before May 25, the average age of everyone who tested positive was 43.5, according to Metro Health. After May 25, that average drops to 35.8. The average age of hospitalized patients has also dropped from 55.6 to 48.7.
  • The positivity rate has more than doubled compared to a week ago. After three weeks when around 3.5 percent of tested for coronavirus turned up positive, the positivity rate increased to 4.5 percent the first week of June and 9.3 percent the week of June 7 to 13.

“Everything was good,” Metro Health Director Dawn Emerick said on Tuesday. “And now, bam, all of a sudden, everything is blinking.”

Metro Health officials said the new case data reported Tuesday came from multiple laboratories around the state and were not the result of a backlog of tests. Nor was the doubling of the positivity rate a result of more testing in San Antonio.

“This is a genuinely increased burden of folks with infections,” Metro Health assistant director Anita Kurian said.

Kurian largely attributed the recent increase to people not following measures meant to slow the spread. That’s what Metro Health staff are hearing in their follow-up phone calls with residents who have tested positive.

“Based on the case investigation experiences, it is more because folks are easing away from the precautions that we’ve made recommendations on, like social distancing and wearing of facial masks,” Kurian said.

The news about San Antonio’s recent case spike came hours after Abbott held a press conference to discuss the growing rate of new cases statewide. Abbott said the State is focused on making sure there are enough hospital beds, ventilators, and protective gear to handle an influx of cases.

Since May, when he first allowed businesses to reopen, Abbott has not foreshadowed any more regulatory measures meant to stop the spread. Instead, he left it up to Texas residents to stop the spread.

“Jobs can be maintained without jeopardizing the health of the community, if everyone follows the safe strategies to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Abbott said. “The more Texans protect their own health, the safer our state will be.”

On Tuesday, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg joined mayors of nine other Texas cities who signed a letter asking Abbott to grant them the authority to set mask requirements. Abbott has emphasized during public addresses that people should wear masks, though he opposes making it mandatory.

“I make clear on a daily basis around the entire state of Texas that wearing a mask is very important, and local officials send that message,” Abbott said Tuesday. “Putting people in jail, however, is the wrong approach for this thing.”

Left with few other options, Nirenberg sent that message multiple times during a televised briefing Tuesday.

“We’re going to continue to remain vigilant and work with our hospitals and medical community to make sure there’s capacity,” Nirenberg said. “And then we use this forum right here. The biggest and best tool we have in fighting the pandemic, I still maintain, is public trust.”

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Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He is an environmental journalist for Oil & Gas Watch.