The number of hospitalized coronavirus patients in Bexar County continues its more than monthlong decline, with hospitals reporting Sunday the lowest number of patients with the virus since June 22.

However, officials have cautioned that the trend quickly can reverse itself if residents don’t keep up with social distancing, masks, and sanitation. It likely will take a year or more before a vaccine is widely available, according to one San Antonio biomedical researcher.

On Sunday, hospitals reported 478 coronavirus patients, the lowest daily count in Bexar County since 446 patients were reported on June 22. Patients in intensive care declined from 213 on Saturday to 206 on Sunday, though the number on ventilators stayed steady at 144.

Reacting to the positive trend in a Friday briefing, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff pointed to the two months it took to reduce the patient count to what it was on June 23. From that date, it took only around a week for the caseload to more than double, soaring past 1,000 hospitalizations on July 1.

“This clearly shows you as one other example how quickly the disease spreads and how long it takes for us to get it back under control,” Wolff said.

The San Antonio Metropolitan Health District reported 99 new coronavirus cases Sunday, bringing the total to 45,255. Officials reported nine new deaths that occurred between July 7 and Aug. 9, bringing the total number of dead to 721.

Though the South Texas Regional Advisory Council still considers the stress level on local hospitals to be high, Dr. Lynnette Watkins, chief medical officer for Baptist Health Systems, noted a marked drop in the number of patients admitted for coronavirus, as well as those requiring more serious care.

Ages and ethnicities of deceased

● 3 men of unknown ethnicity between ages 30 and 59
● 2 women of unknown ethnicity between ages 60 and 99
● 1 Black man between ages 70 and 79
● 1 Hispanic woman between ages 90 and 99
● 1 Hispanic man between ages 50 and 59
● 1 white man between ages 60 and 69

“I think it’s been a very positive trend and it speaks to the hard work the community has done in practicing good public health tactics,” Watkins said in a Thursday briefing. “We are seeing the benefits of that now.”

But she cautioned that “we’re not there yet and we need to remain vigilant in continuing these very important practices.”

Health officials from around the world have cautioned that until a scientifically vetted, publicly trusted vaccine is widely available around the world, the coronavirus will continue to maintain its foothold.

Dr. Larry Schlesinger, president and CEO of Texas Biomedical Research Institute, discussed in a Friday briefing the 165 potential vaccines in development worldwide, with eight of them proceeding to large-scale tests known as phase 3 trials. Each trial involves 30,000 people.

Those trials could take three to six months, depending on how quickly researchers can recruit people, he said. It could take another six months to scale up manufacturing enough to make them readily available.

Two vaccines, one in Russia and one in China, have been approved for early or limited use, but Schlesinger cautioned that “data are scant, and I think we should be cautious about those vaccines.”

“Right now, the biggest challenge is that we’re learning about the immune system response to the virus at the same time we’re trying to develop a vaccine,” Schlesinger said.

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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.