With the percentage of ventilators available for use at Bexar County hospitals in steep decline over the past week, the hospital system remains “under high stress” as the number of positive coronavirus cases and COVID-19 patients continue to creep up, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said at a Wednesday night briefing.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said that with 37 additional people admitted with symptoms of COVID-19, area hospitals are having to make “some really hard decisions.” Of 555 patients currently hospitalized, 164 are in intensive care units and 82 are on ventilators. The percentage of ventilators available has dropped from 78 percent Thursday to 69 percent Wednesday. 

Four new deaths were reported Wednesday, bringing the total to 104. 

The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus also saw another steep climb – with 347 new infections increasing the total caseload to 7,814.

Nirenberg said that while the numbers have made “quite the leap from just a week ago,” what is happening in Bexar County is not much different from what is happening across the state

“Numbers are at an all-time high in Texas,” with more than 50,000 people testing positive, Nirenberg said. The State orders regarding the economy reopening “have us focused on the mask order” as a way to keep people safe and reduce numbers locally. 

Nirenberg said the City contacted 142 area businesses reported for violating mask and social distancing requirements. Of those contacted, 98 were reported for mask violations, and 15 were found to be in violation, he said. 

Wolff said Bexar County deputies are visiting local businesses to ensure that proper mask signage is posted, and “the vast majority are in compliance.”

“People need to continue to be using masks if they are” unable to maintain social distancing, Wolff said.

But while commercial entities in Bexar County are required to implement a health and safety policy that includes mandatory face coverings or face a fine up to $1,000, individuals can’t be fined for failure to wear a mask.

And opposition to wearing a face covering is something Wolff experienced firsthand on Wednesday afternoon, when a trip to Lowe’s Home Improvement on Interstate 10 and Callaghan Road found Wolff at odds with a customer being defiant when a cashier told the bare-faced customer that masks are required. 

Wolff tried to tell the person about the requirement, which took effect Monday, while handing him a business card, but the customer can be seen on video knocking the card out of Wolff’s hand and continuing with his transaction. 

“The purpose of wearing the masks is to reduce the spread,” Wolff said at Wednesday’s briefing. Regardless of whether people are upset, “we need them to try their best to hold their anger down,” because the virus is still spreading in the community. 

The San Antonio Metropolitan Health District is currently hiring contact tracers to aid in the effort to reach out to all who test positive or are in contact with someone who tests positive for coronavirus, Assistant Director Mario Martinez said. “Around 50 percent of people [potentially exposed to the virus] are still not answering our call.”

As Bexar County works to contact them and ensure businesses are complying with the mask mandate, Nirenberg echoed the words of Gov. Greg Abbott, who on Tuesday urged people to stay home in response to the dramatic rise in cases throughout the state. 

“You shouldn’t go anywhere right now with this pandemic how it is and the virus surging,” Nirenberg said. “We are trying to tighten up so we can go enjoy activities, but we have to remain mindful of  public health guidance.”

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza

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