Mayor Ron Nirenberg is urging residents not to host Super Bowl parties lest they bring the coronavirus into their home.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg is urging residents not to host Super Bowl parties lest they bring the coronavirus into their home. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Regular listeners of San Antonio’s daily coronavirus briefing are by now familiar with what might be called the Nirenberg Method.

The San Antonio mayor’s key philosophy on combating the coronavirus is this: With local governments’ regulatory power mostly hamstrung by the State (call that the Abbott Approach), the most effective way to fight the virus is a consistent public information campaign.

Those who tuned in on Wednesday night, the last of these daily briefings until Monday because of the holidays, heard the mayor articulate his approach again.

“The most difficult places to prevent the spread of the virus are places where we cannot regulate, and that’s in your home,” Nirenberg said. “So we’re counting on people to understand what the public health authorities have told us from the very start.”

During a December with new cases and hospital counts on their way to breaking July records, San Antonio won’t see new lockdowns, curfews, or new restrictions. Instead, it’s the same simple messages: Stay far apart from people who aren’t in your household. Wear a face covering. Wash your hands regularly.

Public health officials have long said that social gatherings among family and friends are the main way the virus is spreading. And in San Antonio, it’s still spreading quickly, with officials reporting 1,629 new cases Wednesday, for 106,793 total in Bexar County since the pandemic began. The seven-day average of new cases rose to 1,207. Officials announced another eight deaths, bringing the total to 1,479.

The Nirenberg Method relies on people making good choices in response to good data and consistent messaging from authorities. But occasionally, that messaging has been somewhat mixed.

Take the fact that Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff over Thanksgiving issued curfew orders, one of the few remaining regulatory tools they have. Yet they have no plans yet to institute them from Christmas Eve through New Year’s Day. Reporters have repeatedly asked about this discrepancy during briefings this week.

“The curfew that was implemented over the Thanksgiving break was a very targeted intervention knowing that for a defined period of time we were going to have a lot of extended family gatherings while the cases were accelerating,” Nirenberg responded Wednesday. “At this point, Metro Health has not recommended a curfew” over Christmas and New Year’s.

Another example is upcoming Alamo Bowl on Monday, where a maximum of 11,000 people will gather in an indoor arena to watch the University of Texas play the University of Colorado. Though the event will only take up 17 percent of the Alamodome’s capacity, the mass gathering in a City-owned space is raising some eyebrows.

Asked about the Alamo Bowl at Wednesday’s briefing, Nirenberg said the event will be “essentially hosted by Metro Health because it’s not being conducted unless in accordance with their protocols.”

“Metro Health worked with the staff to ensure that there’s proper distance between people who are seated, that there’s proper ingress and egress, that all of the concessions are touchless, that we have proper sanitation stations throughout the facility, that we have temperature checks at the doors, and that we have enforcement of all those measures,” Nirenberg said. “People have to wear a mask inside the facility. If you don’t, you will be removed.”

The pandemic is an unprecedented event in modern life, and we’re all adapting in different ways. Even Santa Claus has mostly pivoted to virtual and drive-thru events, as reporter Jackie Wang detailed in a story that featured interviews with local Santas and their talent agents.

As for Nirenberg, he says he’ll be spending the holidays connecting virtually with family, the way he hopes all San Antonio residents will to avoid further spread of the virus.

“It’s a Zoom Christmas,” Nirenberg said. “It’s going to make Christmas in 2021 that much sweeter, I’ll tell you that.”

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

  • 106,793 total total cases, 1,629 new cases
  • 1,479 total deaths, eight new deaths
  • 945 in hospital, 10% beds available
  • 290 patients in intensive care
  • 152 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.