A jump in the number of new coronavirus cases in Bexar County on Tuesday has city leaders feeling less hopeful about a recent slowdown in transmission, which they hoped would signal an eventual plateau. 

A 778-case increase, coupled with five new deaths, “is a little bit dejecting” following a recent decline in daily positives since July 4, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said at a Tuesday briefing. 

But equally troubling, Nirenberg said, is that people who tested positive for COVID-19 aren’t answering phone calls from the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District. The work of contact tracers and investigators, who can track symptoms and gather further information about coronavirus-positive residents, can help reduce the spread of infection by ensuring those who need to are isolating. 

All phone calls from Metro Health will now be identified on caller ID as “San Antonio Health Department,” which officials hope will urge people to answer their phone, as opposed to ignoring an unknown number. 

The increase in new coronavirus cases brings the total to 15,880. Of those cases, 1,235 people are currently hospitalized, with 389 people in intensive care, and 221 on ventilators. The death toll now stands at 137.

As the number of people needing treatment for symptoms of COVID-19 continues to increase, the hospital system remains under high stress, as the ideal nurse-to-patient ratio in intensive care is 2-to-1, depending on the severity of symptoms, said Dr. Ian Thompson, Christus Santa Rosa Hospital-Medical Center CEO. 

“Many [hospitals] have [nurses] taking care of three patients in intensive care because in the middle of the night,” emergency rooms still take in patients in need of life-saving medical treatment for conditions such as sepsis, Thompson said. “We are pretty much at capacity.”

Area hospitals have added to their nursing staff thanks to support from the Department of State Health Services and the U.S. Department of Defense but would need more nurses on deck to treat patients should the currently available beds be filled. 

Assistant City Manager Colleen Bridger said while “we are not close” to needing to utilize a pop-up hospital at Freeman Coliseum or an overflow unit assembled at the Texas Center for Infectious Disease, keeping up with the stable increase in hospitalized patients will continue to become more difficult over time. 

Half of the county’s ventilators remain available for patient use, and 11 percent of hospital beds are available, which doesn’t account for the overflow units. 

The total number of hospital beds available in Bexar County also doesn’t include the 100 to 200 beds available at the Brooke Army Medical Center, which Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said would “be a big help to us” if they would allow COVID-19 patients to be treated there.  

“I don’t think they don’t want to [help us], but they have to get approval out of Washington,” Wolff said. Just as Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland asked Bexar County hospitals to help with. In March, when the first coronavirus evacuees arrived at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, the military base asked for help from Bexar County hospitals.

“If they would start taking patients, that would be one step forward,” he said.

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.