Mayor Ron Nirenberg said Tuesday that local hospitals are bracing for an increase in admissions in light of Thanksgiving holiday gatherings.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg said Tuesday that local hospitals are bracing for an increase in admissions in the wake of Thanksgiving holiday gatherings. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Do you remember the impact Memorial Day weekend and the Fourth of July had on the local coronavirus numbers?

COVID-19 wasn’t as much of an issue here in May as it had been in other parts of the country. The San Antonio Metropolitan Health District was reporting only a few dozen or so cases every day, and our nurses and other frontline health care workers were being sent to the New York City area, one of the nation’s epicenters of the pandemic at the time, to help treat COVID-19 patients in overwhelmed hospitals.

Then Memorial Day and Fourth of July activities took our local hospital capacity to the brink. Intensive care unit and ventilator capacities were in the single digits, and help was being flown in from other parts of the country to stem the worsening situation in local medical facilities.

We’re in the midst of a similar surge following Halloween and Thanksgiving. Of course, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Halloween are all traditionally celebrated outdoors mostly – likely blunting their impact. We probably haven’t seen the worst yet from the Thanksgiving holiday, and the seven-day rolling average of coronavirus cases has already eclipsed 1,000 cases a day for the first time in months. Hospital numbers are also creeping up after being fairly steady through the fall.

On Tuesday, Metro Health reported 1,294 new cases of the virus, bringing the seven-day average to 1,113, up from 993 on Monday. With about one in six people testing positive for the virus in Bexar County, the infection rate is at its highest since the summer, and hospital admissions increased by nearly 100 on Tuesday. The admission of 96 new COVID-19 patients is the highest Bexar County has seen since that data has been tracked locally, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said at a Tuesday press briefing.

“We are bracing ourselves for a very difficult week in the hospital,” Nirenberg said. “The velocity of the virus is very concerning right now.”

Even as the dust has yet to settle on how much coronavirus transmission Thanksgiving brought about, Christmas is around the corner. With the rate of infection likely to be higher then, and perhaps as many people visiting or hosting people they don’t share a home with, gatherings during the December holidays could have a more significant effect on COVID-19 spread, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert.

“We’re at a very critical time in this country right now,” Fauci told CNN’s New Day. “We’ve got to not walk away from the facts and the data. This is tough going for all of us.”

The heightened potential for spread in Bexar County is causing Metro Health to spring into action, but with state control superseding local measures, it’s unclear how far the public health authority’s recommendations can go. Its COVID-19 protocols as of Tuesday are in the red zone, meaning local schools are advised to instruct just about all students virtually. But school districts don’t have to follow that guidance. In fact, they’re disincentivized from following those protocols to a T because the Texas Education Agency has said it would withhold funding for districts that do not offer the option of in-person instruction.

Metro Health Medical Director Dr. Junda Woo on Tuesday penned a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott urging the governor to reconsider state policy. In it, Woo urged the governor to allow school districts to work with local health departments and make decisions based on their own situations, without risking the loss of state funding. The letter also seeks reductions in capacity at indoor gyms, restaurants, and bars.

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

  • 89,490 total cases, 1,294 new cases
  • 1,406 deaths, nine new deaths
  • 646 in hospital, 9% beds available
  • 220 patients in intensive care
  • 114 patients on ventilators, 61% ventilators available

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