Local officials are prohibiting gatherings of more than 100 people in response to the recent surge in COVID-19 patients being admitted to Bexar County hospitals. 

Ninety-three percent of COVID-19 cases in Bexar County are attributed to either close contact with someone who tested positive or community transmission, said Dawn Emerick, director of the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District. That will make the 100-person limit on mass gatherings all the more important, especially ahead of the July 4 holiday, she said.

For anyone “adamant” about having a Fourth of July gathering, they should quarantine for the 14 days following, Emerick said. “No one wants to [do that]. It’s hard, but that’s what it takes.”

The wave of new coronavirus cases in Bexar County continued Tuesday with 311 new cases. Cases reported in June account for more than half of the 7,467 positive COVID-19 tests in Bexar County.

And more than a quarter of local cases have been among residents ages 20 to 29, which Mayor Ron Nirenberg said is a reminder that “no one is immune to this disease.”

Three additional deaths were reported Tuesday, bringing the county’s total to 100. The three residents who died were all in their 70s. 

In the past 17 days, hospitalization rates have gone up 600 percent, the number of people in intensive care units has gone up 400 percent, and the number of people on ventilators has gone up 500 percent, said Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, who called the recent spike in the area “horrible.”

As of Tuesday, 518 people were being treated in area hospitals for symptoms of COVID-19. Of those hospitalized, 146 were being treated in intensive care units. That’s an increase of 22 patients from Monday when officials issued a warning that the county’s health care system is under high stress.

Nineteen more people were on ventilators, for a total of 79, Nirenberg said.

“[It is] the most significant increase in one day,” he said.

Baptist Hospital System is one of several feeling the strain of coronavirus, reporting Tuesday that 34 beds are available for COVID-19 patients, down from 75 available on Monday. 

Methodist Hospital System is currently treating 157 COVID-19 patients. 

Nirenberg issued a sharp critique of the state government’s response to the pandemic, highlighting a lack of local control given to local governments as the state reopened after weeks of lockdown. When Gov. Greg Abbott’s statewide order limited mask mandates in early May, the City of San Antonio and Bexar County could only leave face-covering usage to personal responsibility. Later, Wolff issued an order requiring businesses to mandate masks on their premises – a workaround Abbott said had been “finally figured out.”

The nearly 7,500 people local cases of the coronavirus and 500 patients “is not a whole lot” relative to Bexar County’s population of 2 million, Nirenberg said.

“But it shows the potential for things to get out of hand if people don’t treat this seriously and start working together to double up on prevention measures,” he said.

Roseanna Garza

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