The COVID-19 patient count at local hospitals reached an all-time high on Tuesday.
The COVID-19 patient count at local hospitals reached an all-time high on Tuesday. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

As the country’s eyes fixed firmly on Georgia’s consequential U.S. Senate races Tuesday, the frontline health care workers in San Antonio were treating a record number of COVID-19 infections.

The COVID-19 patient count shot up by nearly 60 on Tuesday, climbing from 1,259 to a Bexar County high of 1,318.

The county also saw on Tuesday the third-highest increase in new coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic with 2,152 cases reported, bringing the seven-day moving average to 1,457 cases a day. The all-time high for that metric was 1,716 in July.

More than 1,000 health care workers have augmented the staffs at local hospital systems. But still, the continued surge in patient admissions – more than 180 new COVID-19-infected residents found their way to hospitals Tuesday – is pushing local hospitals to “the very edge of capacity,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said at a Tuesday press briefing. “They can’t be pushed much further.”

Dr. Junda Woo, the medical director of the local health authority, compared the local hospital capacity to a game of Jenga. The less stable the foundation is, the likelier it is to collapse.

“I don’t know if people have some idea that the hospitals can keep on taking it and taking it, but everything’s got a point that [it] breaks,” Woo said.

Mind you, today’s numbers are still within the incubation period for a Christmastime infection. We have still yet to see the effects that New Year’s celebrations had on the local outbreak.

But it doesn’t take a medical expert to tell you that health outcomes can and will suffer as hospitals become increasingly stressed. Grimly, Woo added that this December surge has not been around long enough to tell us about the human toll it will exact on the Bexar County residents it has infected.

The death toll, nevertheless, keeps rising. On Tuesday, five more fatalities were reported, bringing the toll to 1,574.

Local hospitals have begun to suspend elective surgeries in light of the growing surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations, Nirenberg said.

“They’re trying to build capacity wherever they possibly can,” he said.

Although caveated by the fact that hospital infrastructure is constantly changing and a number provided on one day is “just a snapshot,” San Antonio hospitals had 42 intensive care beds available on Tuesday, Nirenberg said. This news comes as Austin medical officials say that city’s hospitals are nearing bed capacity.

But the mayor remained hopeful on Tuesday that San Antonio hospitals would be able to avert a similar situation.

Here are the local numbers as of 7 p.m. *|DATE:l|*:

  • 124,800 total cases, 2,152 new cases
  • 1,574 deaths, five new deaths
  • 1,318 in hospital, 11% beds available
  • 369 patients in intensive care
  • 185 patients on ventilators, 48% ventilators available

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