Two boys play with souvenirs while sitting along the San Antonio River Walk during spring break.
Two boys play with souvenirs while sitting along the San Antonio River Walk during spring break. Credit: Bria Woods/ San Antonio Report

The rate of positive COVID-19 tests in Bexar County has fallen to its lowest level since public health officials began tracking it last April.

Although the outbreak in San Antonio appears to be in one of its lowest valleys yet, officials are warning residents that letting their guard down could result in another coronavirus surge. Area agencies are launching a campaign to make sure residents keep their masks on in light of the March 10 lifting of the statewide mask mandate.

Even though Bexar County has the highest percentage of fully vaccinated residents of Texas’ most populous counties, the county is nowhere “near herd immunity,” said Dr. Bryan Alsip, University Health’s chief medical officer.

“Bear with us another two or three months,” County Judge Nelson Wolff urged residents during a Monday COVID-19 briefing. “We should be [able to] get back to normal life in the United States.”

“The light is at the end of the tunnel, but we have to get there together,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg added.

The threat of coronavirus variants remains, too. Bexar County doesn’t have a long, documented list of variant cases. Just six cases of the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the United Kingdom have been detected here. All of the individuals who contracted the variant have recovered, and none were hospitalized, said Rita Espinoza, the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District’s chief of epidemiology.

The increasing spread of the highly transmissible B.1.1.7 variant has prompted new lockdowns in Western Europe, where many countries have dealt with a new wave of cases. And a look at the history of this pandemic tells us that COVID-19 surges in Western Europe make it to these shores eventually.

“It’s a matter of constantly staying in front of the virus,” local epidemiologist Cherise Rohr-Allegrini said. “I know everyone’s exhausted, and we want to go back to some sense of normalcy. We’re not there yet.”

Although Metro Health’s COVID risk indicator bar is at the lowest possible level currently, other coronavirus risk assessors such as COVID Act Now and the New York Times maintain Bexar County is at high risk for coronavirus spread.

Rohr-Allegrini said if the positivity rate stays below 5% for the next several weeks while the county maintains a testing level of at least 40,000 tests per week that the risk level in Bexar County will have become lower, but don’t take the 2.3% positivity rate to mean everything is safe again, she warns.

“It makes me feel really good,” she said. “It’s not enough to feel that we’re out of the woods.”

Bexar County passed a grim milestone over the weekend, as the local COVID-19 death toll surpassed 3,000. Monday marked the anniversary of the county’s first coronavirus death: a woman in her 80s with underlying health conditions.

The county’s death toll of 3,071 is comparable to its two leading causes of death: heart disease and cancer. In 2019, 3,261 Bexar County residents died from complications of heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cancer claimed the lives of 2,640 residents that year.

With 166 new cases of the coronavirus reported in Bexar County on Monday, the seven-day average stood at 176. Fewer than 190 residents were seeking treatment at Bexar County hospitals for COVID-19 symptoms, and just 19 people were admitted to county hospitals Monday. No COVID-19 deaths were reported locally on Monday. Nearly 15% of local residents old enough to get the vaccine have been fully vaccinated.

Here are the local coronavirus numbers as of 7 p.m. Monday:

  • 202,716 total cases, 166 new cases
  • 3,071 deaths, no new deaths
  • 188 in hospital
  • 81 patients in intensive care
  • 46 patients on ventilators
  • 232,004 residents fully vaccinated

JJ Velasquez was a columnist, former editor and reporter at the San Antonio Report.