Masks have become a polarizing topic during the coronavirus pandemic, but the divisive rhetoric around wearing face coverings is neither new nor effective, said Dr. Junda Woo, medical director of the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District.

“I think when people are judging or shaming people who do the ‘other,’ no matter what camp you fall into, that’s never worked for any communicable disease, and it won’t work for this one,” she said.

With the novel coronavirus, science shows that if people who are sick wear face masks, they decrease the chances of transmitting the virus, Woo said.

“You could have the infection and not know it,” she said. “You could be presymptomatic. Since the virus is tricky that way, you protect other people. … Most people really want to protect themselves and their loved ones. Wearing a mask is a good way to do that.”

Woo reminded San Antonio residents of masks’ efficacy a day after the Republican Party of Bexar County Chair Cynthia Brehm said that local leaders’ instruction for people to wear masks was “unconstitutional.” Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff disagreed with Brehm.

“It’s just so irresponsible,” Wolff said. “It sends a terrible message to other people in the community who may not be following this as closely as they should be.”

As Memorial Day weekend continues, Nirenberg commended restaurants and bars who he said were following proper health guidelines on Friday night, while warning those who did not comply with occupancy limits set by local and state orders that they could be cited. The 25 percent occupancy limit for bars was set by Abbott and enforced by local law enforcement, he said

“So if you suspect any violations, know this: If you enjoy going to that facility and you’re not helping the establishment out by adhering to the guidelines, you’re jeopardizing your ability to patronize that establishment and making it more difficult for everyone,” Nirenberg said. “If you suspect any violations, you can call the SAPD non-emergency line.”

Bexar County reported 2,418 cases of coronavirus on Saturday, an increase of 26 since Friday. The number of hospitalizations decreased again as well – 70 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized, 38 of whom were in intensive care and 19 on ventilators. There were no new deaths to report.

“Our numbers are still looking good,” Wolff said. “It’s been about a month since the governor partially opened up more places … and the numbers indicate we can handle this if we continue to do the right thing, which is to wear the mask and stay 6 feet away from each other.”

Two more area nursing homes completed universal testing, Nirenberg said. Only 27 more nursing homes out of Bexar County’s 65 need to have all of their residents and staff members tested for the coronavirus. Health officials tested 800 nursing home residents and staff on Saturday alone, Nirenberg said.

Testing at Metro Health’s two walk-up testing sites have also seen increased demand, Nirenberg said. Two hundred people were tested at the Palo Alto College walk-up site, while 141 were tested at the Nellie Reddix Center Saturday. Starting next Thursday, Metro Health will operate two new walk-up testing sites at the San Antonio College Welcome Center on 1819 Main Ave. and Highlands High School at 3118 Elgin Ave. Those sites will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Thursday through Saturday.

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.