Pre-measured doses of the coronavirus vaccine are prepared to inoculate health care workers Monday. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

San Antonio’s fight with the coronavirus continues to intensify, even as vaccines begin to provide relief to thousands on the frontlines and officials announce new categories of people set to be inoculated in the coming weeks.

On Monday, local health officials reported 1,283 new cases, bringing the total to 103,447 since the beginning of the pandemic. Five new deaths were reported, raising the death toll to 1,460.

With 8,000 people tested per day, a recent jump in the percentage of those testing positive is also alarming for local leaders. Last week, Dec. 12-18, saw a nearly 2 percent jump in the positivity rate, to 14.4 percent from 12.5 percent the previous week. The new cases announced Monday bring the seven-day average to 1,123, with 889 hospitalizations. Nearly a quarter – 23.2 percent – of all patients in local hospitals have COVID-19.

“It’s unfortunate that just as we’re getting vaccines things are going bad for us,” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said in Monday’s press briefing.

Across Texas, health officials are distributing a first round of vaccines to health care workers and emergency responders. San Antonio Fire Department emergency medical personnel began receiving shots on Monday, with fire department leaders planning to first vaccinate 400 medical staff, then 1,300 firefighters.

“Our personnel have been battling stress and fatigue as they continue the lifesaving work caring for the residents of San Antonio,” Chief Charles Hood said in a statement Monday. “Even with all our precautions, one of the biggest stressors is the fear they may take COVID-19 home to their families.”

Around 2,000 Bexar County staff, mostly affiliated with University Health, have already been vaccinated, Wolff said

People ages 65 and older and those with chronic medical conditions will be next in line for vaccinations, Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) officials said Monday. Imelda Garcia, DSHS associate commissioner and Texas vaccine panel chair, said the goal is to “protect the most vulnerable populations” in the state.

DSHS officials said those prioritized for the next phase of vaccinations will include the elderly and those 16 or older with chronic conditions including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Cancer
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • Heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease or cardiomyopathies
  • Solid organ transplantation
  • Obesity and severe obesity (body mass index of 30 kg/m2 or higher)
  • Pregnancy
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Type 2 diabetes mellitus

More than 70 percent of those who have died of coronavirus in Texas have been people ages 65 and up, according to DSHS, and the state has high rates of people with illness that health officials say are tied to more deadly cases of COVID-19.

“This approach ensures that Texans at the most severe risk from COVID-19 can be protected across races and ethnicities and regardless of where they work,” Garcia said.

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

  • 103,447 total cases, 1,283 new cases
  • 1,460 deaths, five new deaths
  • 889 in hospital, 14% beds available
  • 286 patients in intensive care
  • 146 patients on ventilators, 56% ventilators available

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