COVID-19 rates continue to increase in San Antonio due to the highly transmissible delta variant, according to data the San Antonio Metropolitan Health Department released this week.

The seven-day average increased from 265 new cases last week to 363, and Bexar County’s positivity rate stands at 13.5% — an increase over last week’s rate of 11.2%.

As of Wednesday evening, 75% of Bexar County residents ages 12 and older have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, and 62% are fully vaccinated. 

New cases are almost exclusively among unvaccinated people, University Health epidemiologist Dr. Jason Bowling said. In addition to being unvaccinated, the area’s COVID-19 patients tend to be younger than 50, Bowling said.

“A lot of older people are already vaccinated,” Bowling said. “So we’re seeing that younger group — including people in their 20s.”

As the delta variant has brought about a surge in cases across the state, questions have arisen about whether mask mandates or other COVID-19 restrictions will return. In Austin, officials are urging all Travis County residents to wear masks again — even if they’re vaccinated.

On Sunday, Texas’ positivity rate rose above 10% — meaning more than 10% of all recent COVID-19 tests taken in Texas have returned a positive result — for the first time since February, according to the Texas Tribune.

Despite rising case numbers across Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott reiterated he will not reinstate any statewide mask requirements Tuesday when speaking with reporters from KPRC in Houston. Abbott officially lifted the statewide mask mandate in early March, eight months after initiating it.

“There will be no mask mandate imposed, and the reasons for that are very clear,” Abbot said in the interview. “There are so many people who have immunities to COVID, whether it be through the vaccination, whether it be through their own exposure and their recovery from it, which would be acquired immunity.”

Abbott added that it would be “inappropriate to require people who already have immunity to wear a mask.”

City and county officials said the governor’s lift on mask mandates makes enforcing facial covering policies impossible for government entities.

“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the City of San Antonio and Bexar County have followed [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and public health guidelines for situations in our purview,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said. “In areas where our authority is superseded by the state, we will encourage residents to follow the advice of public health experts.” 

Officials are still urging San Antonians to get fully vaccinated if they’re not already and to follow health officials’ safety recommendations including mask-wearing for people who aren’t vaccinated, Nirenberg said.

While the CDC says fully vaccinated individuals don’t need to wear a mask in most settings, the World Health Organization is still encouraging everyone to wear masks indoors.

As a medical professional, Bowling said he would still encourage people — even vaccinated individuals — to wear masks when going out into crowds. Parents should encourage kids to wear masks as they head back into the classroom, especially those under age 12 who are not yet eligible to get vaccinated, Bowling added.

The longer people go without getting vaccinated, the greater their odds of getting infected. And as the virus continues to circulate, it will mutate into new strains, Bowling said. Mutations occur when the virus passes from person to person and learns new information, he said.

“That’s one of the major reasons people should get vaccinated — to help bring global numbers down,” he said. “We’ve seen how fast something can move from around the world into our own backyard.”

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report. A native San Antonian, she graduated from Texas A&M University in 2016 with a degree in telecommunication media...