While San Antonio’s COVID-19 positivity rate has finally dipped below 5% from its high of 21.4% in early August, projection models by a University of Texas at San Antonio expert suggest it’s not time to rip off those masks just yet.

According to projections by Juan Gutiérrez, professor and chair of UTSA’s department of mathematics, COVID-19 transmission is likely to remain steady through the end of the year.

Gutierrez was one of the first researchers in the nation to use a data-based COVID-19 model to project the spread of COVID-19. The model was developed by the Biomathematics Research Group, a UTSA-based organization led by Gutiérrez. He has since gained local and national recognition for accurately projecting COVID-19 spikes in the San Antonio area and beyond.

The group’s model accurately predicted the July 2020 surge in cases three weeks before it began, and also predicted its subsequent wane in September 2020.

On July 23 this year, the group’s projections showed there would be another 50,000 to 200,000 new cases and another 750 to 3,500 deaths in the region by the end of 2021.

Bexar County has seen a total of 305,278 cases and 4,282 deaths — including roughly 67,000 new cases and 559 new deaths since July 20.

“The range of the estimate, sadly, will be correct, probably toward the high-end,” Gutiérrez said in a recent UTSA post. “This, of course, could be derailed by a new variant.”

Metro Health reported 344 new cases, one new death (along with 110 backlogged deaths), and 73 new hospital admissions on Tuesday, with 868 COVID-19 patients hospitalized. Of those, 83% are unvaccinated.

“We’re trending in the right direction. Keep up the great work,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said during a briefing Tuesday. “Please keep masking up regardless of vaccination status. And if you’re unsure still about getting vaccinated, I encourage you to consult with your health care provider.”

City officials are “cautiously optimistic” after seeing the local positivity rate decrease for the past six weeks, said Claude Jacob, director of San Antonio Metro Health, while vaccination rates are climbing.

Jacob acknowledged that winter typically has higher rates of disease transmission because people spend more time indoors, gathering together during the holiday season. But he also noted that vaccination rates are now up to 71.3% of the eligible population in San Antonio.

He emphasized that the message for unvaccinated residents remains the same: “We’re really pushing a message to ask folks — to remind folks — to get vaccinated.”

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Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report.