As the distribution of COVID-19 vaccinations continues to ramp up in San Antonio, the number of hospitalized individuals is once again reaching worrisome rates, City officials said over the weekend.

Bexar County saw 1,298 new cases Saturday and 1,997 new cases Sunday – the highest number since July 19, when 2,202 new cases were reported.

As of Sunday, 1,234 people in San Antonio are hospitalized with COVID-19, making up 33.3 percent of all local hospital patients, City officials told the San Antonio Report. That number is up from 1,163 on Saturday.

The total number of cases across Texas has reached 1.8 million, with 28,430 deaths, according to numbers of the City’s website.

Local case numbers have been on the incline since October, said Cherise Rohr-Allegrini, local epidemiologist and the San Antonio program director for The Immunization Partnership, a nonprofit focused on eradicating preventable diseases. Since the fall, local rates have been well above the “controllable threshold,” Rohr-Allegrini said.

“If [a city is] below this threshold, we can contain the disease,” she said. “If we’re above this threshold, normal control measures aren’t going to contain the disease. … We never got down low enough to really control it or keep it down.”

While the holiday season likely brought more people together in indoor settings, the number of cases was already spreading exponentially, Rohr-Allegrini said. Once exponential growth has started, it can be difficult to stop it, she said.

The number of local COVID-19 hospitalizations is nearing the peak seen locally July 13, when 1,267 patients were stressing hospital capacity. Sunday’s number was the sixth-highest since the pandemic began.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg said the next month likely will be a difficult one.

“We’ve just been through the holiday season, which we knew transmission and risk levels were on the rise,” Nirenberg said. “We have to weather what will likely be a very rough month within our medical system.”

Worried that local health systems may soon be over capacity, eight San Antonio health care entities released a joint statement Thursday asking local residents to take precautions against COVID-19 and to stay home when possible.

Nirenberg also urged residents to “stay the course” until COVID-19 vaccines have been more widely distributed.

“The vaccine is going to become increasingly more important over the next several days and weeks, as we hopefully see more supply entering our community,” Nirenberg said.

Beginning Monday, the University Health system will begin vaccinating people in the most recent phase approved for inoculation by Gov. Greg Abbott and the State Department of Health Services with the Moderna vaccine. 

The vaccine will be free for individuals with an appointment who have been identified as part of phase 1B, including seniors who are at least 65 years old and adults who have certain chronic medical conditions.

Less than five hours after opening the online appointments on Thursday, University Health officials scheduled 17,280 people to receive their vaccinations and stopped taking appointments. ” We will open up more slots as soon as we get more vaccine,” a notice on its website stated.

For those who made appointments, the vaccine will be administered Monday through Saturday on the lower level at the Wonderland of the Americas from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., with the goal to vaccinate 1,000 people daily, University Health said in a statement.

Nirenberg said he is encouraged to see so many San Antonians are willing to receive the vaccination.

“That being said, our challenge now as a nation, as a state, as local communities is to match the supply with the demand,” Nirenberg said.

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report. A native San Antonian, she graduated from Texas A&M University in 2016 with a degree in telecommunication media...