As 2020 draws to a close, San Antonio is still facing challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic. Like families around town, the City of San Antonio has seen many of its own employees test positive for the novel coronavirus – 906 to date. 

Of those, 125 are still recovering, said Colleen Bridger, assistant city manager and interim director of the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District. More than 250 are still in quarantine and five employees have died.

“Like a lot of families out there right now, the [City of San Antonio] family has also lost family members to COVID-19,” Bridger said Thursday, her voice a little unsteady. “Since March, we’ve lost five family members. We remember those individuals for their warmth, their humor, their dedication and commitment to the City, their family, and their friends.”

Bridger updated City Council members on the local coronavirus response at the Council’s meeting Thursday, where it also formalized the last expenses of the City’s federal coronavirus relief funding. San Antonio received $270 million in federal coronavirus relief funding in May and is on track to spend all of it by the Dec. 30 deadline, said Ana Bradshaw, the COVID-19 financial and performance liaison. 

Meanwhile, Bexar County adds more coronavirus positive test results to its numbers every day, Bridger said.

“We are unfortunately headed quickly to that 100,000 cases [number],” Bridger said.

The county’s seven-day rolling average is 1,038 cases with a 12.5 percent positivity rate. As of Thursday, 1,440 people have died of the novel coronavirus, 11,044 still have active COVID-19 cases, and 82,298 have recovered.

Of the total cases in the county, 24 percent came from outside of San Antonio, Bridger said. But a sobering 20 percent of cases recorded since March have happened in November; all 10 districts increased their case rates by more than 150 percent compared to October and the City’s overall rate increased by more than 200 percent, according to a report from Metro Health. She added that although Bexar County may match its previous July COVID-19 peak, it has not yet reached that point.

The coronavirus also impacts different parts of San Antonio in unequal ways, Bridger said. The virus has hit poorer districts the hardest: council Districts 4 and 5 have the highest COVID-19 case rates overall while the more affluent districts 9 and 10 have the lowest.

Throughout the pandemic, the south and southwest portions of San Antonio have experienced the most infections per capita, and the most recent figures from November stay true to that pattern. According to the Metro Health report, District 3 recorded 990 cases per 100,000 residents, District 4 recorded 1,056.3, and District 5 recorded 1,033 in the month of November alone. The other seven districts’ November rate stayed below 870 cases per 100,000 residents.

Districts 3, 4, and 5 also have the highest case fatality rates, Bridger said. As of Nov. 30, Metro Health reported 187 coronavirus deaths in District 3, while District 4 had 159 deaths and District 5 had 222. Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) said she hopes authorities will prioritize areas with the highest fatality rates when it comes to vaccine distribution. 

“I’m getting stopped all the time, people saying, ‘When is everybody going to get the vaccine?’ And I haven’t heard anybody not agreeing with what’s currently presented – that it would go to health care workers and then people in long-term care facilities, then of course immediately to areas where we’ve been hardest hit,” she said. 

Much of the higher case rates in those districts can be attributed to underlying health conditions that make residents in those areas more vulnerable, Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) said, agreeing with Gonzales.

“We made a small stride toward working on that by increasing the budget of the health department this year, including the Healthy Neighborhoods program, which relies on community health workers and attempts to eradicate chronic diseases in our populations where they’re the highest,” Sandoval said. “That was a small stride, and I hope to count on the support of the council members when we design next year’s budget and see how much more we can grow that.”

Gonzales said she worries about those underlying health issues that needed to be addressed before the pandemic and are only being highlighted by the novel coronavirus. She also voiced concern over discussing coronavirus “recovery” while the pandemic is still ongoing.

“I’ve been very reluctant to spend too much time talking about a recovery because I do feel like there’s only so much bandwidth we can handle,” Gonzales said. “And I feel like looking too much towards the recovery takes the attention away from the reality of what’s happening now, which is still a lot of fatalities and [high] rates of infection.”

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.