COVID-19 has claimed the lives of 500 Bexar County residents in January, accounting for a quarter of all local deaths.
COVID-19 has claimed the lives of 500 Bexar County residents in January, accounting for a quarter of all local deaths. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

It’s been more than 10 months since we started The Curve newsletter, acting as quickly as we could to intuit the needs of you our readers.

Writing this newsletter (and blog) every workday is a great honor, but a solemn one that takes an emotional toll sometimes.

As many of you all might have been when this all started to hit San Antonio, I was hopeful that the resolve and ingenuity of our people would help bring this pandemic to a swift halt. It’ll slow down in a few months, I thought, though that naïveté quickly gave way to sober realism.

Even so, I’m not sure I would have imagined that COVID-19 would claim the lives of 2,000-plus residents of Bexar County.

And the greatest injustice is that the dead and dying comprise some of San Antonio’s most vulnerable residents and those who sacrificed themselves to battle the disease head on: nursing home residents, poor and minority folks, and frontline workers.

As founder and Editor Robert Rivard wrote in a recent column, San Antonians who have succumbed to the disease are largely anonymous and unmourned by the greater community. Of course, HIPAA laws prevent those names from being released, but it is difficult to convey the gravity of this pandemic and its extraordinary human toll without building portraits of the people COVID-19 has claimed.

Our education reporter Brooke Crum on Friday penned one of the more heartbreaking obituaries of a pandemic casualty I’ve seen. Sparked in large part by a former coworker’s viral tweet, the story of Edgewood ISD teacher Cynthia Ritz, who was the district’s teacher of the year last academic year, has now been shared the world over. Ritz died earlier this month from COVID-19 complications, one of already 500 local lives the disease has claimed in January.

Stories like these are important because they animate the two-dimensional renderings of academics, epidemiologists, and other practitioners. These are the stories that can move readers to speak out or prompt legislators and government officials into action.

As Gus Bova of The Texas Observer writes in a recent piece, the deaths of those who catch the virus at work such as teachers, meat-packing facility workers, nursing home staff, and others, will never be recorded as work-related fatalities. Even federal agencies have said they won’t compile data on COVID-19 deaths.

So it’s clear we’ll only have a patchwork understanding of how working conditions might have contributed to this unspeakable loss of life.

On Friday, Bexar County reported 19 more deaths, among Hispanic and white men and women ranging in age from 50 to 99. Their deaths bring the toll to 2,046 throughout the pandemic.

More than 1,500 new cases on Friday were added to the cumulative case total of 167,000. The seven-day average stands at 1,359.

In a continued positive trend, the number of Bexar County residents hospitalized with COVID-19 again declined, from 1,276 on Thursday to 1,216 on Friday. But a greater percentage of them are in intensive care units.

A note on vaccinations: Nirenberg said on Friday that registration would be paused next week and the week after that, and the only appointments taking place will be for people receiving their second doses – that is, unless the City receives more vaccine doses from the federal government.

WellMed will open its COVID-19 vaccination reservation hotline on Saturday beginning at 8 a.m. Those appointments will begin on Feb. 1. To book an appointment, dial 833-968-1745. Operators are available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. until all reservations slots have been filled.

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

  • 167,567 total cases, 1,545 new cases
  • 2,046 deaths, 19 new deaths
  • 1,216 in hospital, 11% beds available
  • 401 patients in intensive care
  • 256 patients on ventilators, 51% ventilators available
  • 117,174 residents vaccinated (at least one dose)

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