This story has been updated.

An inmate from the Bexar County Adult Detention Center died Monday evening, according to the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office. Pending a medical examiner’s report, the coronavirus-positive man is believed to be the first COVID-19-related death among the county jail population, the sheriff’s office said in a statement.

Clifford Childs, 66, was taken off of life support while receiving treatment for COVID-19. He was admitted to University Hospital on April 17 after testing positive for the new coronavirus and was placed on a ventilator during his hospital stay.

The sheriff’s office reported Childs’ death Monday night after the mayor and county judge’s daily media briefing. He was booked into the jail in March 2018 on two counts of murder and had been awaiting trial.

Bexar County flattens the curve

Before the sheriff’s office released information about Childs’ death, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said at Monday’s media briefing that there had been no new deaths to report. San Antonio Metropolitan Health District Director Dawn Emerick also announced Monday that Bexar County has reached the other side of the curve, marking a pivotal juncture in the city and county’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Emerick noted that one of the markers of successful public health measures is the amount of time it takes for case numbers to double. Currently, that timeframe is more than two and a half weeks; prior to Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff issuing their first stay-at-home orders on March 23, that timeframe was three days.

“A lot of people have been asking us, ‘Is it over? Is it over? Is it over?’” Emerick said during the nightly press conference. “Well, it’s never over, but what we can say is that – when we’ve been talking about flattening the curve, we’ve done that, and we are on the other side of that curve, which is really awesome.”

Bexar County saw coronavirus cases rise by 39 on Monday, bringing the total cases to 1,652. However, of those positive tests, 34 came from the Bexar County Adult Detention Center, which has become a hotspot in recent weeks. The rise of just five cases among the general population, Nirenberg said, proves that social distancing and limited movement works.

“As we begin to open things up, a reminder that it’s still important to practice those social distancing measures,” he said. “We want to open up strong, we want to open up once, so we don’t have to do this over again and you’ve been performing extraordinarily with the guidance from our public health professionals.”

Of the 57 people hospitalized for COVID-19, 33 are in intensive care and 18 are on ventilators. Five of those in the hospitals are inmates from the county jail, Wolff said.

The sheriff’s 0ffice reported Monday that 57 more inmates tested positive for coronavirus, bringing the total number to 294 inmates; 217 of those have been reported as asymptomatic cases. More than 830 inmates have been tested for coronavirus so far.

Two more detention deputies tested positive as well, bringing that total to 58. The sheriff’s office also commemorated detention deputy Timothy De La Fuente, who died from coronavirus last week, earlier Monday with an honor escort.

Metro Health will continue to monitor case trends and if that doubling time falls below two and a half weeks, it would be a red flag for Metro Health to examine, Emerick said. But for now, the organization has concluded that Bexar County has flattened the curve.

“But I want to just, again, give caution,” Emerick said. “That doesn’t mean that we can go back to the way that we were back in December or November. All of this work that you’ve done, the hard decisions that you have made, the advice that public health has given you – it is the reason that curve has been flattened and how well we have done in San Antonio. So it’s good news. But we’re not done. We’re not done.”

After Gov. Greg Abbott rolled back restrictions on businesses and activities last Friday, both the mayor and county judge issued extensions to local stay-at-home orders to align with Abbott’s new executive order. Those orders mandate certain businesses cap in-person visitors at 25 percent of their occupancy limits and space patrons six feet apart. Since those rules took effect, the City has had 64 violations reported and issued 34 citations, Nirenberg said. But penalizing violators with fines and jail time is not the way to encourage social distancing and mask-wearing, he said.

“I don’t think we can arrest this problem away,” he said. “The biggest penalty for someone not wearing a mask is knowing we’ll probably have more deaths in this community.”

Wolff maintained that business owners would serve as one of the primary enforcers of the local stay-at-home orders’ mask requirement. Abbott prohibits local entities from punishing individuals for not wearing masks. 

“The businesses that are not helping us on that, they’re going to cause themselves a problem,” he said. “If somebody comes in there without a mask and somebody gets infected, they’re gonna have some liability. So they need to wake up and protect themselves, protect their employees and protect their customers.”

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.