Local hospitals, facing a dire situation as COVID-19 patient admissions continue to climb, cannot handle another post-holiday surge, the leaders of Bexar County’s three largest hospital systems warned Thursday.

The CEOs of Baptist Health System, Methodist Healthcare, and University Health System – along with the CEO of Christus Santa Rosa Hospital-Medical Center and City and County officials – held a news conference to urge residents to prevent more community transmission by staying home this Fourth of July weekend and not hosting gatherings with people who don’t live in your home.

“This could be pretty scary for us, so really its best to stay at home,” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said. “We want to get through this July Fourth. We don’t want a spike on top of the spike we are having already.”

The current spike in positive coronavirus cases and COVID-19 hospitalizations began almost exactly 14 days after Memorial Day weekend, one of the first opportunities people in San Antonio had to visit friends and family after shutdown restrictions lifted, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said.

Before Memorial Day weekend, only 79 COVID-19 patients were being seen at area hospitals. The number of patients hospitalized as of Thursday was 1,074, with 332 in intensive care and 180 on ventilators.

“As we enter into another holiday weekend, more than 1,000 patients are hospitalized. We cannot stand another two-week surge after the Fourth [of July],” Nirenberg said.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg displays a chart showing a post-Memorial Day spike in coronavirus cases. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Methodist Healthcare “can’t sustain that type of growth of [hospitalized] COVID-19 positive patients in our community,” said Allen Harrison, its president and CEO. Methodist Healthcare is treating 343 COVID-19 patients, up 357 percent from two weeks ago.

Baptist Health System is currently treating 350 COVID-19 patients, President and CEO Matt Stone said, and if patient rates continue to double every seven to 10 days, the hospital system will need 1,000 intensive care beds to meet the need two weeks from now.

Two weeks ago, University Health System was seeing 25 COVID-19 patients, and today its treating 144, President and CEO George Hernandez said. Adding capacity to treat more COVID-19 patients “is not a sustainable solution,” he added.

Officials continue to urge the wearing of masks, frequent hand-washing, and social distancing as the community’s best tools for combating the spread of coronavirus.

Asked about Gov. Greg Abbott’s new order Thursday requiring Texans is most counties to wear a face covering in places of businesses, public buildings, and outdoor public spaces when social distancing is not possible, Nirenberg said, “It’s about time.”

Four new deaths in Bexar County were reported Thursday, raising the toll to 115. Thursday’s 374 new cases of coronavirus bring the Bexar County total to 12,878.

Hospital leaders say that while they are working to expand the number of beds and add personnel and ventilators, it’s not going to be enough if the community ignores the rules and recommendations in place for staying safe, including staying home for the holiday weekend.

“We are responding to [the growing rate of hospitalizations, but that’s not the approach [to take] with this,” said Ian Thompson, CEO of Christus Santa Rosa Hospital-Medical Center. “The numbers are staggering and the disease is breathtaking.”

Harrison said what Bexar County needs is for people to start paying attention to the seriousness of the “growth COVID-19 positive patients in our community, which have quadrupled in exactly six weeks.”

Harrison said his father died when he was young, and it’s important for people to not “gamble those relationships with family” by hosting get-togethers for the Fourth of July.

For those planning to socialize with family members in the home, shareable trays of food and sharing food, drinks, and utensils are discouraged, Nirenberg said, calling the actions “a recipe for infection.”

Wolff said SeaWorld San Antonio and Six Flags Fiesta Texas, to aid in the local effort to reduce mass gatherings on Saturday, agreed to reduce the number of people inside the parks to less than the 50 percent capacity allowed.

Fiesta Texas will keep capacity at 20 percent, while SeaWorld is going with 30 percent. Both will conduct temperature screenings for anyone entering the parks.

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza

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