Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said Wednesday that he wrote a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott’s chief of staff asking Abbott to consider allowing the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts to reopen. The venue had to cancel or reschedule events well into July and the San Antonio Symphony’s season was cut short by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Tobin Center has the ability to remove seating and create spacing, which should allow it to distance people safely, Wolff pointed out. 

“You’re allowed to go to a number of different venues now,” Wolff said. “To churches – some of the megachurches that [have] well over 3,000 seats in their churches. The Tobin Center has about 1,700” seats in its main performance hall.

Like other businesses that were not explicitly listed as covered or essential services allowed to reopen by the governor’s latest executive order Monday, the Tobin Center must ask the Texas Department of Emergency Management if it can resume operations, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said.

The state department can help a business discern whether it is essential, but it’s the governor who can issue new orders that expand the definition of “covered” services.

“The governor has made it very clear it’s his intention to define what an essential service is and covered service is,” Nirenberg said. “He has essentially taken it upon the state’s behalf to define that for local communities. So if it’s not explicitly stated, then there is a gray area.”

Nirenberg also reported 44 new coronavirus cases in the county, bringing the total to 2,322. Eighty-two COVID-19 patients are currently hospitalized, with 36 of those in intensive care and 17 on ventilators.

One more person has died from coronavirus, a woman in her 50s who had been a resident at the Buena Vida Nursing and Rehab Center. Her death brings the county’s total number of coronavirus fatalities to 63. The San Antonio Metropolitan Health District continues to prioritize testing at nursing homes, said Anita Kurian, assistant director of communicable diseases. 

Testing demand has risen some, Kurian said. Metro Health is seeing more than 2,000 people in Bexar County each day asking to be tested for coronavirus, she said. With the testing capacity that private labs offer, the County now has the ability to test 3,960 each day. 

“Part of that is removing all barriers to testing,” Kurian said. Earlier in May, Metro Health announced it would test people without COVID-19 symptoms.

On Wednesday, a federal appeals court temporarily blocked U.S. District Judge Fred Biery’s Tuesday ruling that Texas voters who feared coronavirus transmission at poll sites qualified for mail-in ballots. Wolff called the appeals court’s action a “big setback” but noted that elections departments don’t investigate mail-in ballot qualifications.

“Anybody has the right to send that in and say that they’re either handicapped or that they’re sick and won’t be able to go vote,” he said. “And they will be sent a mail-in ballot. We don’t have a detector … to see if people are telling the truth or not. I hope it doesn’t come to that.”

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.