San Antonio Fire Department ambulances and first responders arrive at the Baptist Medical Center emergency department. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Hundreds of thousands of smartphones buzzed in unison at 7 p.m. Tuesday, broadcasting warnings of an increasingly dire coronavirus trend in San Antonio.

Officials reported 1,717 new cases Tuesday, the second most in a single day since July 19 (2,202 cases), not including a backlog of older cases made public on July 16. The new cases brought the total to 105,164.

“The alert is a plea for everyone to slow the spread and celebrate the winter holidays responsibly, and only with those within your immediate household,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said. “This is not the year to host a big gathering or a tamalada.”

Another 133 new COVID-19 patients were admitted overnight to local hospitals. That pushed the total number of hospital patients to 912, the highest it’s been since July 31.

COVID-19 patients are now occupying just over 15 percent of all local hospital beds, Nirenberg said in a press briefing. If that figure stays at 15 percent or above for seven days, occupancy rates for local businesses will automatically go back to 50 percent under State orders, the mayor said.

Health officials also reported 11 new deaths Tuesday, increasing the overall death toll in Bexar County to 1,471.

San Antonio’s situation is worsening even as the number of people vaccinated across Texas continues to grow. Earlier in the day, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott received his first dose in a live TV broadcast from Austin.

“It’s that easy,” the governor said after nurse placed a bandage on his upper left arm.

Drug companies Pfizer and Moderna have sent more than 235,000 doses to Texas, the vast majority to hospitals, according to Texas Department of State Health Services data. Of those, 23,400 have been sent to Bexar County.

Health officials have a long way to go before exhausting this inventory. So far, 5,843 people in the county have been vaccinated.

For now, vaccines are supposed to be limited to frontline health care workers and residents of assisted living and nursing facilities. State health officials estimate that nearly 145,000 people in Bexar County fit that category.

Next up are people ages 65 and up and those with chronic health conditions. Assistant City Manager Colleen Bridger said Tuesday that these rollouts could start in “mid- to late January.”

“So much of this is dependent on the vaccine producers actually shipping the vaccine, so we do not have a definitive date,” Bridger said. “What we can tell you is we are well on our way to vaccinating all of the critical, frontline health care workers.”

Local education officials have called on Abbott and the state’s Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel to add teachers and other school staff to its list of frontline workers in hopes they can be vaccinated sooner.

“If staff don’t feel safe coming to school, if we can’t continue to teach kids in school, it’s going to hold back the economic recovery of the state,” said Northside Independent School District Superintendent Brian Woods. “So why wouldn’t you prioritize teachers and other school staff?”

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

  • 105,164 total cases, 1,717 new cases
  • 1,471 deaths, 11 new deaths
  • 912 in hospital, 10% beds available
  • 292 patients in intensive care
  • 145 patients on ventilators, 60% ventilators available

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