Classrooms inside Eloise Japhet Elementary have protective measures in place such as restricted desks that allow students to be socially distant.
Classrooms inside Eloise Japhet Elementary School have protective measures in place such as restricted desks that allow students to be socially distant. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The San Antonio Metropolitan Health District should not recommend in-person schooling until the curve has been more soundly flattened, according to a coalition of education professionals that had been involved in helping Metro Health determine its guidance on reopening schools.

“We strongly disagree with the direction the City of San Antonio and Metro Health is moving in allowing area school districts to begin to bring children back to campus when we are not yet in the designated green zone,” the Friday letter stated.

Metro Health has designated the school risk level as moderate, or in the yellow zone, which means special-needs students or those without a home internet connection can return to campuses beginning after Labor Day weekend. In the yellow zone, students can learn on campus in pods of six or fewer.

“We strongly feel that the experts in classrooms are the teachers, support staff, and the students,” stated the letter, claiming education professionals have not been meaningfully included in the decision-making process. “We are deeply disappointed with the lack of leadership in our city at a time when moral courage is so needed. The data clearly demonstrates the devastating and disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on the South and West sides of San Antonio – largely Latino communities. … The rush to reopen before conditions are safe reflects a disregard for the South and West sides of San Antonio.”

Health officials have said a coronavirus positivity rate of 5 percent or less is key to safely returning most students to on-campus instruction. Bexar County’s positivity rate stood at 7.8 percent on Monday.

“I don’t disagree with the intent of that letter,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said during a press briefing on Friday. “The challenge for us is that the enforceability of the health department directive has been stripped by the State.

“It is true – we’re not in the green zone yet, which is why they’re still recommending we have only small pods – 25 percent occupancy. We hope we’re below 5 percent [positivity] and we get into the green zone by the time a lot of these schools are opening up, but let’s be very clear: The guidance from the health authority has not changed.”

A total of 22 deaths among Bexar County residents between ages 30 and 89 were reported Friday, bringing the local death toll to 873. Twenty of the fatalities were confirmed via death certificate review and took place between July 5 and Aug. 25.

Ages and ethnicities of the deceased

• 6 Hispanic men between ages 50 and 79

• 5 women of unknown ethnicity between ages 60 and 89

• 5 men of unknown ethnicity between ages 50 and 89

• 3 Hispanic women between ages 50 and 89

• 2 white men between ages 30 and 69

• 1 white woman in her 40s

COVID-19 patients account for 8 percent of area hospital patients in Bexar County. That’s 323 patients in total, 145 of which are in intensive care and 83 on ventilators. Local COVID-19 hospitalizations have been in decline since hitting a peak in late July.

An increase in new coronavirus cases of 114 brought the overall caseload to 47,184 and the seven-day rolling average of new cases to 157.

Local officials employed the use of smartphone emergency notifications once again on Friday, warning residents against gathering in large groups during Labor Day weekend and urging them to continue practicing physical distancing and wearing masks.

The City of San Antonio has employed the use of the Wireless Emergency Alert System before to broadcast pandemic orders such as face-covering requirements.

JJ Velasquez

JJ Velasquez

JJ Velasquez is a columnist at the San Antonio Report. A former reporter and editor at the SA Report, he currently works as a project manager for New York City-based Advance Local.