“I come to you from a place of frustration,” Fire Chief Charles Hood said.

Hood took the podium at the Emergency Operations Center on Friday afternoon alongside local officials to share the sobering numbers associated with a recent surge in coronavirus infections, almost all among unvaccinated people.

As of Friday, 418 COVID-19 patients were in the area’s hospitals, the most since early March. Of those, 121 were in intensive care and 50 were on ventilators. More than 95% of currently hospitalized patients had not received the vaccine, said Bill Waechter, president of North Central Baptist Hospital. And local hospitals admitted 70 new coronavirus patients on Friday alone.

“I sat here 501 days ago, talking about COVID when it first started. Seventy-one weeks. It’s been a long time,” Hood said. “We tested over 730,000 during that time. We have vaccinated a quarter of a million San Antonians. … To think we still have people out there still hesitant to get vaccinated is very frustrating.”

While 62% of Bexar County residents ages 12 and older have been fully vaccinated and 75% have gotten at least one dose, progress has stalled. Meanwhile, the percentage of positive coronavirus tests, or positivity rate, rose from 11.2% last week to 13.5% this week.

This graph shows the rate of hospitalization for COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic last year. Credit: Courtesy / University Health

Waechter noted that the newly admitted patients “have one thing in common: the fact that they did not get vaccinated” and acknowledged that the area is “fully in the middle of another surge.”

Statewide, hospitalizations increased 150% from June 27 to July 20.

Of people who have gotten vaccinated, less than 1% reported contracting the coronavirus, known as a breakthrough infection, said Dr. Anita Kurian, assistant director of the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District. As long as a portion of the population remains unvaccinated and more transmissible variants such as the delta variant circulate, there will be some instances of fully vaccinated individuals who get COVID-19. However, those are mild cases that do not typically land people to the hospital or end in death and only about 12% of new cases each week occur in vaccinated individuals.

“Vaccination is the best tool we have, but no vaccine is 100% effective,” Kurian said.

Testing is still an important part of pandemic response as well, Kurian said. She advised people who develop symptoms consistent with COVID-19 get tested for the virus, regardless of their vaccination status. 

“We are seeing on average about 363 new cases every week,” Kurian said. “So long as the virus is circulating, so long as we continue to see new cases in our community, this pandemic is still alive and testing is pretty relevant. It is as relevant as it was when the pandemic began.”

The parking lot at the Alamadome where COVID-19 vaccines are offered is relatively empty Friday afternoon.
The parking lot at the Alamadome where COVID-19 vaccines are offered is relatively empty Friday afternoon. Credit: Bria Woods / San Antonio Report

New Metro Health Director Claude Jacob said that his department will continue to push for vaccination in the community, especially with more than 100,000 San Antonians either due or past due for their second dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Metro Health has already held more than 400 vaccination clinics at school districts around the area and will publicize its vaccination campaign through TV and digital ads. 

“We are looking at our messaging strategies. We’re looking at areas of highest need across the city,” Jacob said. “We’re throwing everything including the kitchen sink at this.”

The city is hosting a number of vaccination clinics and continues to provide vaccines at the Alamodome without an appointment Wednesday through Friday from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. You can also get vaccines at most retail pharmacies, doctor’s offices, and hospitals. Find private vaccination locations here and city-hosted pop-up vaccine clinics here.

“The facts are clear. … Vaccines are the best protection we have,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said at the Friday press conference. “If you want to avoid a severe case or a deadly case of COVID-19, get vaccinated.”

Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang is the local government reporter at the San Antonio Report.