Ruben Betancourt, left, self-administers a rapid COVID-19 test facilitated by Community Labs.
Ruben Betancourt, left, self-administers a rapid COVID-19 test facilitated by Community Labs. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

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It’s becoming clearer and clearer that San Antonio, along with the rest of the country, is in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic’s winter surge – and it may just be the beginning.

On Monday, officials announced that the positive test rate in Bexar County jumped more than 6 percentage-points, from 9.2 percent last week to 15.7 percent this week. The positivity rate is revealed weekly each Monday and comprises coronavirus test results from the previous week.

It’s the largest increase in the positivity rate since June. That mid-June rise in the positivity rate preceded the highest peak in San Antonio since the pandemic began.

The latest spike is the beginning of a Thanksgiving surge that is likely to persist into the coming weeks, officials said. With tests from Nov. 30 to Dec. 6 factoring in, the tests would have only accounted for a few days after Thanksgiving Day. But the coronavirus has a 14-day incubation period, so next week is expected to see a similar – if not larger – hike in cases.

“This is no time to let up,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said at a Monday press briefing. “We know vaccines will be here at some point, but it is always darkest before dawn and you need to do everything you can to protect yourself, your family, and your neighbors from this dreaded virus.”

On Tuesday, Great Britain will become the first country to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine to its citizens with more than 50 medical facilities in that country set to receive doses for their workers.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will consider Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for emergency approval at a Thursday meeting, and distribution of the vaccine could begin as soon as 24 hours later.

Eleven Bexar County health care providers are on the list to receive the vaccine in the first week of distribution, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

At the top of the list are University Health System and Wellness 360, each with dose allocations of 5,850. Among the others are the Christus Santa Rosa, Methodist, and Baptist health systems.

The heightened infection rate in the county will have consequences for Bexar County bars that have not sought reclassification as restaurants from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. Just a few dozen bars had opened after Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff gave them the green light following Gov. Greg Abbott’s order allowing county judges to opt into reopening bars. Those establishments will either have to secure a shift to selling food in addition to beverages or be shut down come Thursday, Wolff said on Monday.

Even as the coronavirus infections climbed in recent weeks, the hospital numbers were not matching that dramatic rise – until Monday when there was a nearly 40-patient increase in COVID-19 patients at local hospitals. Wolff was disturbed by Monday’s numbers, saying it’s tough to find a glimmer of positivity among all of the viral positivity. With Christmas and New Year’s around the corner, it is only likely to get worse.

“December is a really scary, scary month, and now we’re beginning to see the impacts of it also,” Wolff said. “It’s not just San Antonio; we’re seeing it in all the other major metropolitan areas also.”

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