For San Antonio resident Yvonne Cox, losing a father-in-law to coronavirus “made it real.”
With the city experiencing an unprecedented spike in cases, Cox still has to work at her job at a nursing home to help support her 3-month-old baby. She said she’s not going out or taking any risks.
“I’m really scared because all it takes is just one person not being cautious for all of us to get sick,” Cox said.
As the city enters its fourth week of steeply rising numbers, more San Antonio residents than ever are feeling the growing weight of the crisis. On Sunday Bexar County’s cases rose by 495, bringing the total number of active cases to 6,888. The number of COVID-19 patients in Bexar County hospitals rose to 802, with 265 in intensive care and 138 on ventilators.
“We’re in the midst of the worst spike in cases that we have seen, really ever,” San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said in a Friday briefing. “Within days, we could overwhelm our entire medical system, and that’s a point of no return for this entire community.”
Aside from the overall case count, the rate of those testing positive is going up, from 3.5 percent through most of May to nearly 17 percent as of Sunday. The time it takes for cases to double has shrunk from 36 days on May 28 to 13 days on Sunday.
Dr. Bryan Alsip, chief medical officer for University Health System, said in a video message Saturday that the current case trends likely began with people mingling over the Memorial Day weekend.
“Conversely, it means that if we have interventions that we’re really trying to implement now, it may take us another two or three weeks to really see the impact of that,” Alsip said.
Thursday’s positivity rate of nearly 12 percent in part prompted Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday to close bars, scale restaurant occupancy back to 50 percent, and close river outfitting businesses. Bars had been allowed to serve patrons at 50 percent capacity, with restaurants at 75 percent.
“What I said from the very beginning as we opened up is that if the numbers worsened, which they did more than a month after we opened up, Texas would take action, and that’s exactly why I took the action I did today,” Abbott said in a Houston TV news interview.
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff praised Abbott’s decision in a daily press briefing Friday.
“I think the governor is beginning to take measured steps,” Wolff said. “I don’t think he’d just shut everybody down again. I think you may see some more of that next week where various businesses may be restricted more.”
With hospitals in major cities approaching capacity, many Bexar County residents say they are staying the course of restricting their travel to only essential trips, wearing face coverings, and sanitizing their hands regularly.
“I wear my mask every time I have to go out to a store or to show homes to my clients,” San Antonio Realtor Monica Barrientos said. “I try to avoid groups of people to lessen the chance of contracting the virus and have gone to doing some meetings via Zoom. I was getting a little bit tired of having to wear a mask, but then I saw the [coronavirus] numbers spike and felt I was doing the right thing.”
On Sunday, Texas saw 5,357 new cases, marking the sixth straight day of new cases topping 5,000. Previously, daily new cases had never exceeded 3,000 in the state.
In a private call with Texas lawmakers ahead of May’s reopening, Abbott had made it clear he understood that cases would rise as more people moved freely around the state.
“It’s almost ipso facto, the more that you have people out there the greater the possibility there is for transmission,” Abbott said in leaked audio obtained by Quorum Report.
In the Friday interview, Abbott said he’s not yet considering putting the state back under stay-at-home orders.
“Now is not the time for stay-at-home policies across the entire board,” Abbott said. “I believe we can do both – continue to engage in our economy, while slowing the spread.”
Texas Democrats have assailed Abbott and the Trump administration for the state’s emergency as a U.S. hotspot. In a Friday conference call, State Rep. Chris Turner (D-Grand Prairie) said Abbott’s move has been to “follow the Trump playbook at every turn with the confusing, haphazard, and disorganized response to this pandemic.”
Locally, Nirenberg and Wolff have avoided saying they would impose shutdowns, even if Abbott’s orders allowed them to do so. However, both have criticized what they call mixed signals about the pandemic from Austin and Washington D.C.
“The governor says he just advises, he doesn’t say you should,” Wolff said in a Monday briefing. “The president refuses to wear [a mask].”
From mid-March through April, Texas had proven that many sectors of the economy could function while keeping cases down, Wolff said. But as people let their guards down, “it just broke down on us.”
“And now we’ve got to hopefully put it back together,” he said.
Some say they are simply making up their own minds, viewing measures like masks and regulations as ineffective. San Antonio resident Destiny Jones said she simply teaches her children to cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze and practice “basic hygiene.”
“I find the mask as an annoyance more than anything,” Jones said. “I’m over the regulations. This virus is inevitable and needs to run its course. It’s unfortunate, but that’s life. I’m not gonna ‘Live in fear of what could potentially happen.’ That’s not a life.”
Even those who understand the virus best seem exasperated by how difficult it can seem to pin down. On the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force since April 27, Dr. Anthony Fauci described the virus’ attacks on the human body as “protean,” evoking the shape-shifting god of water.
“There’s no other infectious disease that goes from 40 percent of the people having no symptoms to some having mild symptoms to some having severe, some requiring staying at home for weeks, some going to the hospital, some getting intensive care, some getting intubated, some getting ventilated, and some dying,” Fauci said.
But as the virus spreads at unprecedented levels throughout San Antonio, more area residents are beginning to see its effects firsthand. Adrianne Zawadski, a Converse resident, said one of her friends lost a father and uncle to coronavirus.
“With our numbers rising and our state being open, which has led to mass amounts of people being careless, I am more worried than ever about going out,” Zawadski said. “I’m not too worried for myself, but I do worry about my mom who is older. I do not mind wearing the mask. Of course, it’s uncomfortable and I’d rather not wear it, but I want to protect myself and others.”