Three weeks into San Antonio’s stay-at-home order, 5-year-old James has one question: “Mayor Ron, when is corona going to stop and when can I go back to school?” he asked.

James was one of several children who submitted questions to Mayor Ron Nirenberg on Monday during a livestreamed town hall Monday geared for kids and their questions about the new coronavirus. Nirenberg told James that he was not sure when schools would reopen, but that each school district’s superintendents and board of trustees were working together to figure that out.

“The governor has said in his emergency order, just a couple of weeks ago, that schools will remain closed ’til at least May 4, but right now we’re waiting for the guidance from the local school districts to give us a sense of when they’re going to be open,” he said. “So for right now, stay put and get used to your homeschool.”

Nirenberg also fielded questions about whether kids can ride bikes outside (yes), how long the stay-at-home order will last (until at least April 30), and how the City will prepare for future pandemics (by working with other people around the world and having a process where more people can be tested faster).

Justice Luz Elena Chapa of the Fourth Court of Appeals joined Nirenberg for the virtual town hall from her bedroom, where she is recovering from COVID-19. She explained to viewers that she had caught the new coronavirus while on a ski trip to Utah in mid-March, but that she is feeling much better.

“I first started to see signs and symptoms of extreme pain throughout my body,” Chapa said. “And then later, a high fever came.”

Though Chapa did not have to be hospitalized, she said her fever has recurred throughout her convalescence, so she remains isolated in her bedroom. She has a glass door in her bedroom so her two daughters, son, and husband can “visit” her on the other side.

“We’ve had dinners together every night through the glass door that leads out to the patio,” she said. “I sit on the other side of the glass … basically, at the table, and we get to share dinner every night together.”

Chapa advised kids to work with their families as a team during the coronavirus pandemic. She had to let her husband take over parenting duties while he continues his legal work, she said, but her two older daughters have become quite self-sufficient.

“If you all play sports, you know there’s a captain, you know there’s a coach, and you know there’s players, teammates,” she said. “We all have to play those different roles at any given time. Kids have to work together, siblings have to work together like they’ve never had before.”

She and Nirenberg urged parents to leave children at home when running errands such as grocery shopping.

“We need to stay at home as much as possible and designate maybe one one parent to go to the grocery store and leave the kids at home,” Chapa said. “And I know that sometimes parents do have to take the kids, so make sure that you’re wearing your masks.”

Nirenberg told 6-year-old Ava, who asked how far coronavirus can travel in a grocery store, to stay at least 6 feet away from other people. 

“The good news is if you stay 6 feet away, you’re very unlikely to breathe in anything” that could cause them to get sick, he said.

Nirenberg also showed off his green plaid cloth face mask, looping the elastic bands around his ears. Unlike Laredo, the City of San Antonio does not mandate face masks in public, but Nirenberg urged residents to follow the CDC’s recommendations to wear a cloth face mask when in public. 

“It’s something you can put over your face like this, and you see people wearing them right now,” Nirenberg said. “And that’s because it not only prevents you from breathing in something that’s coming out of someone else’s nose or mouth by accident … if you happen to sneeze by accident, it keeps it from going out into the air.”

Toward the end of the town hall, 11-year-old Eduardo voiced the question on everyone’s mind: “I’m wondering if you know why everybody’s taking all the toilet paper from the stores,” he said in a prerecorded video message.

Nirenberg and Chapa both laughed, though neither could explain why so many feel the need to buy larger-than-normal amounts of toilet paper. Nirenberg said the City has been reminding people to not hoard anything, including toilet paper, and stores including H-E-B have placed limits on the amount customers are allowed to buy.

“There’s not a shortage of toilet paper if everyone just calms down and buys only what they need,” the mayor said. “So, we’ll keep it thinking about that one, Eduardo, but if you have any thoughts on that too, please let us know.”

Jackie Wang

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