The fourth week in March arrived with the grim news of San Antonio’s first coronavirus fatality, a woman in her 80s being treated at Brooke Army Medical Center who died March 21, one of 45 individuals in the city who had tested positive for the virus at the time.
By week’s end, five coronavirus fatalities would be recorded in San Antonio, and one more in Comal County, with a slow expansion of testing locally leading to 140 individuals testing positive.
On Monday, Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff issued a mandatory “Stay Home, Work Safe” order that started Tuesday and remains in effect until April 9. The order came less than one week after Nirenberg issued an emergency order closing all restaurants, bars, entertainment venues, and other public gathering places to for 30 days. Takeout services were permitted.
Essential businesses, including health care facilities, grocery stores, pharmacies, and convenience stores, remain open.
San Antonio was among the first Texas cities to issue such orders as Gov. Greg Abbott resisted calls to order a statewide shutdown, noting that 200 of the state’s 254 counties had not reported any coronavirus cases. The City has operated a COVID-19 Hotline since March 3 to respond to residents with concerns and anxieties.
Opinion: Acting now ensures citizens that, even in the event of a prolonged crisis, the Nov. 3 election will go on with maximum participation.
Nirenberg and Wolff also announced last week that they would hold daily news briefings at 6:15 p.m., including on weekends. Citizens can watch the briefings online or on television (AT&T channel 99, Grande channel 20, Spectrum channel 21, digital antenna 16.1).
As San Antonians adapted to isolated life and work at home with limited forays out into a city left empty and silent in its public spaces, New York City became “ground zero” once again, this time as the epicenter for the pandemic’s spread in the United States. There have been 450 coronavirus fatalities in New York City, with more than 26,000 individuals testing positive in the densely-populated five boroughs.
Abbott issued an executive order Thursday requiring visitors flying in to Texas from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and New Orleans to self-quarantine for 14 days during the coronavirus pandemic.
On Friday, Trump signed into law a $2 trillion economic relief plan that will bring tax-free $1,200 payments to most adult U.S. citizens and $500 checks for each dependent child age 16 or under. Individual San Antonians who earn $75,000 or less and couples without children with household income of $150,000 or less should receive checks in the mail within three weeks, according to administration officials.
Reduced checks will go to individuals making less than $99,000 individually and households making less than $198,000, or $218,000 for families with two children. People reporting income higher than that are not eligible for stimulus checks.
The bill also expands unemployment benefits and eases student loan repayment and access to retirement savings. Nearly half of the $2 trillion is earmarked to help small businesses as well as whole industries.
The New York Times published this FAQ about the largest stimulus bill in U.S. history.
One local economist at St. Mary’s University predicted that more than 25,000 jobs will be lost in San Antonio as the unemployment rate surges from an all-time low, with more than $2 billion in lost economic activity anticipated.
On Thursday, Toyota announced it would join other North American vehicle manufacturers and suspend production through April 20, idling 7,200 workers at its San Antonio plant and local supply chain businesses.
One day later the luxury St. Anthony Hotel announced it was closing for 60 days.
Amid all the dire economic news, many San Antonio nonprofits and volunteer corps deployed to offer care and services to the city’s most vulnerable populations. Auto traffic might be light throughout the city, but a long line of vehicles each day at the Meals on Wheels Northwest site attests to the thousands of families availing themselves of the free service. Local corporate donations enabled rapid expansion of the service.
The San Antonio Area Foundation and United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County announced the first $300,000 in grants from the newly established COVID-19 Response Fund, with the money directed to nonprofits directly involved in charitable services related to the pandemic.
The City and the network of homeless advocacy organizations, meanwhile, enacted plans focused on the population of San Antonians who do not have a home to shelter in and who remain susceptible to a coronavirus outbreak.
Locally owned restaurants, bars, and coffee shops displayed their entrepreneurial talents by converting to curbside to-go businesses, while spirits distilleries selflessly shifted to manufacturing hand sanitizer.
Students, parents, and educators got a crash course in distance learning.
For all those searching for ways to stay active and positive while adhering to the Stay at Home, Work Safely order, perhaps this is finally time to plant that long-imagined vegetable garden. While this March is one we will long remember, let’s not forget that it’s time to plant tomatoes.