Bexar County’s coronavirus caseload soared on Thursday by more than 5,000 new positives largely because of a reporting backlog from the State, according to local officials.

The bulk of the delayed results – nearly 4,000 cases – came as a result of a change in the Department of State Health Services’ reporting to the City’s health department. That along with a change in the local reporting database caused Bexar County to see an overall increase of 5,501 cases on Thursday – 691 of which were confirmed within the past day and thus were not part of the backlog. The total caseload now stands at 27,047.

The other 4,810 cases came from test results that went unreported during the past two weeks, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said during Thursday’s local coronavirus briefing. Thursday’s increase brought the rolling seven-day average of new cases from 689 on Wednesday to 1,338 on Thursday. Assuming the cases were tested during the past 14 days, an average of about 350 cases per day went unreported during the backlog.

While the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District was unaware of the backlog of unreported cases, those who tested positive were notified as soon as their results were returned to the lab, Nirenberg said. It did, however, affect contact tracing efforts.

“It’s concerning to say the least,” he said.

In addition to concerns over a backlog in reporting results, local officials are also concerned with changes made by DSHS to not include antigen test results in the number of people testing positive. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports in its case count results of antigen tests, DSHS decided to remove 3,484 reported positives from Bexar County’s case count without informing officials in advance. 

“Questioning whether or not we should count that test makes it seem like some people at the state and federal level are trying to suppress just how bad this COVID pandemic is,” Nirenberg said.

While PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests, which detect the virus’s genetic material, are considered the “gold standard,” said Metro Health Medical Director Dr. Junda Woo, the antigen test is also accurate in detecting the virus by looking for a protein that lives on the surface.

If an antigen test comes back as positive it is a true positive, Woo said. “The negative [test results are] what we worry about because this test” may not be as good at picking up people who are positive.

But the CDC and Metro Health report positive antigen tests to get a more accurate picture of who is really sick, Nirenberg said.

“We are trying to make sure that people have the data so they can make informed decisions to protect themselves, their businesses, and their families,” he said.

There has also been a month-long delay in reporting deaths. Twenty-one more Bexar County residents on Thursday were reported to have died from COVID-19, raising the local death toll to 229.

Of those, 10 were from two local nursing homes. Windsor Mission Oaks reported five deaths dating as far back as June, and Carol Anns home reported five from within the same time frame. 

The other 11 people who died were between ages 20 and 99.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said that while the increase in cases and deaths is “obviously a source of concern,” a slight decline in hospitalizations is a “silver lining” in a difficult moment. 

There are currently 1,202 patients being treated in area hospitals for symptoms of COVID-19, down 29 from Wednesday. Of those, 430 are in intensive care, down by eight, but ventilator use went up by three, bringing the total to 277. 

Fourty-six percent of ventilators are still available for use, and 12 percent of area hospital beds are still available. 

Nirenberg said that looking at the hospital system data is more important than the number of reported daily positives “because good daily indicators don’t depend on test results.”

While the case rate is higher than expected due to the delay in reporting, hospital admissions have leveled off in the past few days, Nirenberg said, with the number of COVID-19 patients at area hospitals reducing by 1 percent to 35 percent of admissions. 

Roseanna Garza

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