The COVID-19 hospitalization rate in Bexar County has doubled for the second week in a row, and the number of patients sent to the intensive care units and using ventilators has doubled in the last seven days. 

The exponential rise in infections is putting “significant stress” on the hospital system, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said Monday, with 25 percent of patients at area hospitals being treated for COVID-19. More than 20 percent of those tested for the coronavirus have been positive.

The Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council (STRAC), a network of hospitals and first responders who maintain the regional trauma and emergency health care system for San Antonio and 22 surrounding counties, requested that the U.S. Department of Defense deploy medical personnel to help treat the influx of patients, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said at Monday’s media briefing on the pandemic. 

The Department of Defense plans to send 250 critical care nurses to Bexar County, Wolff said, and another 565 have been requested from the Texas Department of State Health Services.

In addition, University Hospital System increased its capacity to treat COVID-19 patients by adding 74 more beds. 

Nirenberg said that while local officials are working on surge management with the hospital system to ensure providers have the space and equipment needed to treat COVID-19 patients, “the concerning part is just how fast the cases are accelerating.”

Another 650 people tested positive on Monday, bringing the total number of local cases to 10,797. As of Monday, 881 people are being treated at area hospitals, up 79 from Sunday. Of those, 274 are being treated in intensive care, and 154 are on ventilators. 

Of even greater concern, Nirenberg noted, is the decreasing period of time it takes for the total number of local coronavirus cases to double. That’s now 11 days, far fewer than the 18-day threshold Metro Health officials established in May. Less than a month ago, San Antonio health officials celebrated the fact that it was taking more than a month for cases to double.

Nirenberg said half of the young people being treated for COVID-19 at area hospitals have no underlying health conditions.

“Young people are not invincible,” Nirenberg said.

More than 20 percent of people being tested for the coronavirus are testing positive, Nirenberg said. 

With the Fourth of July weekend approaching, Wolff said that the increasing caseload is a reminder of how quickly and easily the virus can spread in large groups.

“I know you are going to set off some fireworks from your home, and when you do, you should have only 10 people over,” Wolff said, noting Gov. Greg Abbott’s order limits gatherings to 100 people, but that is too many for the current trend of large daily increases in cases in Bexar County.

Face coverings are mandated in Bexar County in situations where social distancing is not feasible. 

“There are a lot of things you can do to help us contain the virus. The mask, the distance, the sanitation – you know what to do,” Wolff said. “Those that can stay home should stay home.”

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