(From left) Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Governor Greg Abbott walk into the Wittee Museum for the announcement.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg (left) and Gov. Greg Abbott. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Mayor Ron Nirenberg on Monday declared the City’s third public health emergency, advising against any gathering of more than 50 people, as San Antonio recorded its fourth case of the novel coronavirus.

The mayor’s declaration – a tenfold reduction from the previously set 500-person mass-gathering maximum – comes in response to guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency is monitoring U.S. rates of COVID-19, which have risen to more than 3,400 cases nationwide, resulting in 68 deaths. Across the nation, cities have responded with varying degrees of shutdowns – from bars and restaurants to a shelter-in-place advisory in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Texas will have enough COVID-19 testing sites for 10,000 people to be tested for the novel virus weekly, Gov. Greg Abbott said Monday. As testing capabilities increase throughout the state and nation, positive diagnoses will increase exponentially, Abbott said.

“People need to be prepared and not shocked that once widespread testing is implemented a lot more people are going to be testing positive,” he said.

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Standing behind Nirenberg and Abbott at a Monday press conference to announce the measures were City Manager Erik Walsh; Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen; Emerick; State Sens. Pete Flores (R-Pleasanton), José Menéndez (D-San Antonio), and Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels); Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar, U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-Helotes), and Fire Chief Charles Hood.

Abbott’s statement comes on the heels of San Antonio reporting its fourth case of travel-related COVID-19, which was diagnosed in a resident physician with University Health System (UHS). The City did not state where the physician had traveled.

UHS officials said the physician is currently quarantined at home, and the hospital is strengthening precautions for all who enter its facilities to include temperature checks and support for drive-thru testing to minimize patient exposure.

“It would be difficult to overstate the importance of social distancing,” Nirenberg said. “Prevention is worth the difficulties we are all experiencing at the moment.”

San Antonio Metropolitan Health Director Dawn Emerick told the Rivard Report that the diagnosis of COVID-19 in a health care professional is the main reason why the city’s drive-thru COVID-19 testing will prioritize health care workers, first responders, and seniors over age 60 who have a temperature of 99.6 degrees or higher.  

Last week San Antonio opened its first drive-thru testing location in the state, and by the end of this week a second location will open up to test San Antonio’s most vulnerable populations, such as the elderly and immunocompromised, Emerick said.

Emerick said that in addition to the increased testing availability, city officials developed a COVID-19 testing task force, which includes representatives from the South Texas Regional Advisory Council (STRAC), under the Department of State Health Services. The task force will look into local and nationwide trends to expand who receives priority testing.

“As conditions change both locally and nationally, we will be able to expand testing criteria to include” other vulnerable populations, Emerick said.

As of Monday, there are 58 confirmed cases of COVID-19 across 15 Texas counties, not including those who tested positive after being repatriated from Wuhan, China, or the Diamond Princess or Grand Princess cruise ships, Abbott said.

Currently, 300 Texans are awaiting results of COVID-19 testing, and 200 have already been tested and received results, Abbott said.

“By the end of the week, everyone who needs a COVID-19 test will be able to get one,” Abbott said, noting that not everyone needs one. “Just because [someone] is concerned, doesn’t mean they qualify.”

Individuals can qualify through a referral from a physician. Such individuals will have received negative test results to rule out the flu and other respiratory illnesses.

Metro Health officials are asking anyone showing symptoms of COVID-19 – which include fever, shortness of breath, and a cough – not to visit emergency rooms for testing and instead seek care from a primary care physician or urgent care provider, because the test must be ordered by a physician.

Emerick said that in addition to working to increase testing for local residents, Metro Health is also working on a website that will compile test results from area labs and the public health department to determine how many San Antonians have been tested, the number of people who are under investigation for potentially contracting the virus, the number of confirmed cases, and the total number of deaths.

This article has been updated to correctly state the symptoms of coronavirus.

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