As coronavirus cases continue to climb in San Antonio, some health experts are calling this a “second wave,” while others tell us this sudden rise in cases is still a part of the first wave. Regardless of what wave we’re in, the hundreds of cases emerging daily and hospital beds quickly filling up raise concerns about San Antonio’s response going forward. Mayor Ron Nirenberg has been a calm and collected leader throughout this crisis, and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff has continued to lead the county’s resilient effort. Still, our city leaders ought to evaluate lessons learned from the initial outbreak and implement them moving forward.
Perhaps the governor’s disinterest in fighting Wolff’s mandatory mask requirement and fine-enforcement provides San Antonio an opportunity to confront the next waves more responsibly, supported by the community. The lesson here is to always place public health first without causing further division within the public; one side driven by community precautions and one side driven by individual freedom.
While Governor Greg Abbott may not mandate responsible actions statewide, councilmembers should continue to educate the public around the benefits of following the CDC guidelines. A public health campaign with ads on TV, radio, and social media encouraging the recommendations – perhaps with one of our very own San Antonio Spurs – could help elevate the message. This could raise awareness around the importance of protecting ourselves and our neighbors.
We also have a chance to work with county and state leaders to increase testing per day. Medical experts have impressed the importance of gathering more accurate data to prevent the spread; the lesson learned being the need for much more testing here and across the country. After all, San Antonio has only conducted just over 120,000 tests in a population approaching two million. We can do better than this.
The next council will be left deciding not only where to continue allocating funds to address immediate concerns, but also how the city will rebuild in every aspect after the pandemic. The economic development task force and the Health Transition Team’s Watch, Expand, and Assure Plan are incredible steps forward. Leaders have learned the importance of building a team of medical experts, listening to them, and allowing them to take center stage. We hear from elected leaders every day, but perhaps we should hear directly from the health director more often. The council must exhibit steady leadership by continuing to listen to experts in the medical, business, and San Antonio communities.
The council’s decision to allocate $191 million into workforce development, housing security, small-business support, and digital inclusion is a necessary one. Alarming numbers of unemployment claims beginning in March forced federal assistance. Businesses, big and small, felt the impact. Teachers had to pivot to online instruction, while. parents had to assume new schooling duties as they worked from home.
This taught our leaders that some issues, such as small-business support, require immediate attention. Other problems, like the need for digital inclusion and workforce development, have been revealed as institutional barriers in parts of our community for some time, now only worsened amid the pandemic. My councilman, Clayton Perry, voted against that Community Recovery and Resilience Plan. No-votes like these are not made with foresight. We simply cannot implement a short-term solution for small businesses and not consider the avoidable ramifications that may follow.
Leadership requires good-judgment in high-intensity situations, and leaders learn from their mistakes. The decision to pull away from the one-eighth-cent-tax for ConnectSA seems to be more of a knee-jerk reaction to the problem. Without expanding public transportation, more people will struggle during this recession, but we obviously need to determine where cuts must be made across city services. To avoid panic, the council should step in to ensure VIA and the city are both at the table working to find a solution for the future.
No matter the crisis, democracy does not die, and the community should always be invited to the conversation. The lack of community input around VIA is similar to what we saw when City Council’s B Session was shut down when the virus originally hit. As we confront the next phase of the crisis, the council must keep the public engaged and included in the conversation.
The pandemic highlights the issues facing our city and presents an opportunity for us to address them. We should consider folks in need of a return to the workforce. We should address housing security in one of the poorest metro areas in the nation. We should expand digital access to those who need it. As we review needs post-pandemic, small business owners, employees, parents, and students deserve thoughtful leaders who will put the best interest of the community above party politics.
At the end of the day, one thing public health experts tell us remains true: without continuous safety precautions, the numbers will continue to rise. The already fracturing local economy will be further damaged in the long run. Students may further require at home learning and the burden will be on close parents and distant teachers to support them. The next council will face these ongoing issues, coupled with an increasingly heated discussion around the police union contract. With so many issues to address, we require steady leaders to confront them all. If we work together in these challenging times, we will make it out of this long dark period stronger.
Gabrien Gregory is a member of the United States Army Reserve. These views do not imply endorsement by the Department of the Army or Department of Defense.