San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff expressed their desire for the executive order Gov. Greg Abbott issued Monday to succeed, but also trepidation over the plan to reopen restaurants, retail stores, malls, and movie theaters. Abbott’s order allows those businesses, as well as museums and libraries, to open on Friday as long as they limit the number of people inside the business and follow public health guidance.

The order comes as Bexar County officials announced 21 new coronavirus cases and the first death since April 23, which was a Hispanic woman in her 70s who had underlying health conditions. The county now has 1,275 total coronavirus cases with 59 patients in the hospital, 34 in intensive care, and 16 on ventilators.

“The world did not suddenly change with respect to this infection,” Nirenberg said. “Today, some orders did change from the state, but what is working is social distancing, wearing masks, making sure that we’re limiting public gatherings, and things that we’ve been doing as a community here locally and across the state.”

The Bexar County Sheriff’s Office also said Monday that two more inmates and two more deputies have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the number of positive cases to 62 inmates and 34 employees.

While the numbers have fluctuated, Bexar County hasn’t reported more than 51 cases in a day since April 15. With this in mind, Nirenberg said he hoped the governor’s plan would succeed in safely reopening businesses, but that Bexar County must continue to monitor cases and data to make decisions.

“The loosening up of some of the restrictions at the state level we hope doesn’t make us regress, and we’re going to be watching the data very closely to make sure that that doesn’t happen,” Nirenberg said.

City and County stay-at-home orders expire on Thursday and will give way to Abbott’s executive order. Nirenberg said he and Wolff would announce other city emergency orders to fill in gaps Abbott’s plan doesn’t address, including limits on public gatherings, and present them when City Council and county commissioners gather for a special meeting Tuesday.

“That will ensure that we have the proper local interventions in place,” Nirenberg said. “There’s a lot of things that we’re doing that the state orders are silent on.”

Officials also stressed the need for residents to continue to practice social distancing and continue to wear face masks even though the governor’s order does not make that mandatory. City Attorney Andy Segovia said that local orders could still include a mask mandate, but law enforcement could not hand out fines. 

“The new order that the judge and the mayor will come out with, we’ll make sure it’s consistent with what the governor has determined on masks,” Segovia said. “So there’ll be no penalties or fines, but we believe there’s some space between no penalties and fines and simply encouraging people to wear masks.”

Wolff said he was disappointed to see that Abbott merely encouraged the use of face coverings in public spaces. On April 20, San Antonio and Bexar County residents were required to cover their faces in some manner when visiting public places where social distancing is difficult.

“I think that the worst decision he made was to not require mandatory use of face masks,” Wolff said. “To me, that is the underpinning of everything we do – face masks, 6-foot social distancing, washing the hands. … So, I thought that was a mistake.”

Law enforcement can still enforce social distancing requirements and cite businesses for failing to limit their in-person customer population to 25 percent of its capacity, Segovia said. Abbott established fines of up to $1,000 or jail time up to 180 days for violating his executive order.

Segovia added that the governor’s order included some flexibility in peeling back the plan to reopen businesses.

“The good news about what the governor [states] today in his order – it does envision if the state does see a particular county or region that does become a new hotspot where we see the numbers start going up, he at least mentioned the flexibility of the state retrenching on some of their openings for that particular region,” Segovia said.

If Texas sees no large increases in hospitalizations, deaths, or hotspots, Abbott said the state could move on to phase two on May 18, which would increase occupancy capacity to 50 percent and potentially allow bars, gyms, and personal care businesses such as nail salons and hair salons to reopen.

Jackie Wang

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