As the number of new coronavirus cases continues to climb, officials are asking people to report people and businesses in violation of mask orders to the San Antonio Police Department or Bexar County Sheriff’s Office. 

Nine businesses and three residential gatherings were cited in the past several days for failing to adhere to mask orders in situations where a person cannot socially distance, said Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff. Violations can result in a $250 fine. Another 130 businesses were given warnings for not posting required signage and allowing gatherings that were too large. 

“If we have to get out of this without your support, we are not going to get out of this,” Wolff said at a Tuesday briefing.

At the briefing, officials reported 854 new coronavirus cases in Bexar County, bringing the total to 21,067. Six new deaths were reported, of people between 50 and 89 years old, bringing the death toll to 201. 

More than a third of patients at area hospitals are being treated for COVID-19 symptoms, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said. Nearly 30 percent do not have underlying conditions, he added, reiterating that the illness can affect a wide spectrum of people. 

The hospital system remains under severe stress, with 1,237 patients hospitalized. Intensive-care patients total 417 while 260 are on ventilators.

The local hospital bed capacity rose from a low of 10 percent on Monday to 11 percent Tuesday. Nirenberg said hospital resources are vital as patients continue to be treated for reasons other than COVID-19.

“Everything that we do to contain the virus means that there are resources available for those who are suffering from heart attacks, who are being treated for trauma, those who are pregnant, and many other reasons,” he said. 

New coronavirus cases reported in the next couple of days will indicate whether people stayed home over the Fourth of July weekend to the benefit of the health care system, said Colleen Bridger, assistant city manager and interim director of the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District. 

“We feel very optimistic that everybody heeded our recommendations and did exactly what they needed to do,” Bridger said. “And we are going to continue to be optimistic until the data proves otherwise.”

But until numbers begin to dramatically slow down, area hospitals will continue to prepare for an influx, including keeping refrigerated trucks on standby for use as area funeral homes struggle with the capacity to store bodies of the deceased, said Dr. Bryan Alsip, chief medical officer at University Health System. 

“Most hospitals don’t have a large enough morgue there to maintain people until they are moved to funeral homes,” Alsip said. Area hospitals have been proactive in having the trucks on hand “to stay one step ahead.”

Officials are also working with the 17 area school districts to be proactive and ensure they are “on the same page” regarding back-to-school plans and how to keep children safe. 

Nirenberg said the “tremendous amount of community spread” needs to be taken into consideration, but that no decision would be made unilaterally when it comes to best practices, which will depend on what is happening in the district and throughout Bexar County at that time. 

“I certainly believe that there shouldn’t be a rush back to [in-person schooling] if it’s not safe,” Nirenberg said. If the local public health authority needs to intervene “to ensure a safe environment, I certainly support that.”

Roseanna Garza

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