As Bexar County grapples with another 15 deaths and a 299-person increase in the number of new coronavirus cases on Friday, officials are also preparing to potentially receive evacuees from neighboring counties.

As Tropical Storm Hanna continues to strengthen amid its approach toward the Texas coast, several hotels have been identified to house evacuees coming from area hotspots on Saturday, when Hanna is slated to reach landfall in South Texas. The hotspots include Corpus Christi, where one in every 50 people is infected. 

“We are in the danger zone in so many ways with regard to the storm and the threat of increased transmission if we were to have a lot of activity coming here,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said at a Friday briefing. Concerns are amplified for Corpus Christi because of the recent surges seen in that city’s hospitals. 

The National Weather Service issued a flash flood watch for parts of several South Texas communities, including Nueces, Bee, Jim Wells, Refugio, and San Patricio counties.

A hurricane warning and storm surge warning for the Coastal Bend area was also issued. Life-threatening flooding and dangerous and damaging winds are possible for the region, according to the warning. 

The San Antonio Fire Department will take the lead in coordinating with hotels that receive evacuees, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said, noting the hurricane evacuation is being handled differently than in years past due to COVID-19 concerns. 

Ages and ethnic backgrounds of deceased

5 Hispanic men ranging in age from their 40s to their 80s

3 white men ranging in age from 50 to 89

2 Hispanic women in their 50s and 70s

1 white woman in her 70s

2 men and 2 women of unknown ethnicity ranging in age from their 60s to their 70s

“I can remember when we had evacuees [due to Hurricane Rita], and we had thousands of people out at the [military] bases and at [Freeman Coliseum],” Wolff said. “This time we have to be extremely careful” about where people stay because there is so much risk for transmission.

Nirenberg said the Bexar County hospital system continues to remain under severe stress, with 1,059 COVID-19 patients, of which 430 are in intensive care and 294 are on ventilators. 

While hospitalizations have gone down, health officials are attributing the downward trend to recoveries; patients being transferred to long-term, acute-care facilities; and patients dying.

“The measure to look at is more of what’s coming in and how many new hospital admissions” there are to see what is really going on with the disease, said Rita Espinoza, the City of San Antonio’s head of epidemiology. “This is not the time to let down your guard because hospitals are still getting cases. We still have a lot of infection in our community.”

Nirenberg said that “if people want a little bit of normalcy come August, we have got to really buckle down now and work hard together to stop the spread of this virus.

“Good things will come, but we have to work hard to get there. And, unfortunately, some of this stuff … we don’t want to hear,” including youth sports being too dangerous right now, and schools delaying in-person classes. “But, it’s what we have to do to protect people’s health.”

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