A little more than a month after local officials first shut down bars and restaurants to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, face coverings are now mandatory in public.

Beginning at 12:01 a.m. Monday, all Bexar County residents 10 years or older must wear a cloth mask or face covering in public spaces where the proper distance of at least 6 feet can’t be maintained. The City and County order takes effect as the total number of coronavirus cases in Bexar County passed 1,000 on Sunday.

Of the 1,015 residents who have tested positive for the virus, 276 have recovered and 39 have died, according to the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District.

In a daily briefing Sunday, Mayor Ron Nirenberg reported an additional death Sunday of a patient who had lived at Southeast Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, the center of a local coronavirus outbreak.

The resident was a Hispanic man in his 70s who suffered from multiple underlying health conditions, Nirenberg said. His death brings toll among the facility’s residents to 18.

Also at the briefing, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff reported an additional five cases of coronavirus among Bexar County Jail inmates, bringing the total to 20. All are male, he said. Three of them are in the hospital.

During the briefing, City Attorney Andy Segovia explained the face covering order announced Thursday. Residents aren’t required to wear masks in open spaces where people are spread out, but they will be required in places like grocery stores or pharmacies, Segovia said. Employers also must begin providing them to their employees.

During the briefing, Wolff bluntly criticized the federal government for failing to prepare for and mismanaging the pandemic.

“Five years ago, President Obama warned about something like this coming,” Wolff said. “What have we done? We weren’t ready for it. … We weren’t ready for testing, and other nations have moved beyond us.”

Wolff cited the example of Germany, where leaders this week announced an initiative to randomly sample the entire population of 83 million using antibody tests that can trace whether someone has recently contracted coronavirus.

“We’re so far behind on testing and, so far, not doing what we should be doing,” Wolff said.

In San Antonio, testing is available for those with appointments at the Freeman Coliseum mass testing site. As of Sunday, more than 11,600 Bexar County residents have been tested.

Still, local testing is limited to people who show symptoms, even though evidence has pointed to those without symptoms as drivers of the virus’s spread.

“We are in the same boat in terms of testing capacity as most any other city in the state of Texas,” Nirenberg said. “We all need to see more testing.”

During the briefing, Wolff also called Republican-led Texas Legislature’s failure to expand Medicaid to low-income residents a “tragedy in the first magnitude.” Texas has the largest population without health insurance in the U.S., after the Legislature joined 13 other states in refusing to expand Medicaid.

“I hope this next United States Congress and the Texas Legislature, some little light beam comes on in their little dense heads and they get something done,” Wolff said.

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Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He is an environmental journalist for Oil & Gas Watch.