The scarcity of shoppers when malls first reopened their doors meant store managers did not have to worry about the 25 percent capacity rule. A scattering of diners ventured out to the few open restaurant patios on the River Walk, content to sip margaritas as they took in the eerie emptiness of the normally bustling Paseo del Rio.
That was early in the week. By week’s end, patio tables at restaurants filled up, takeout lines grew longer, and more store patrons suggested shoppers wanted a change of venue from home shelter. Restaurants began taking reservations for Mother’s Day brunch on Sunday. Highway traffic picked up, and radio news reports of traffic accidents resumed.
Hair, nail, and tanning salons, barbershops, even swimming pools were among the many nonessential businesses given the go-ahead to reopen Friday by Gov. Greg Abbott. Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, trademark bandana mask lowered, posed in a barber’s chair while getting a haircut.
Uncertainty Is the Only Certainty
The COVID-19 Economic Transition Team presented an economic reopening report to a joint session of San Antonio City Council and Bexar County Commissioners Court on Tuesday. The presentation followed the earlier release of a report by the COVID-19 Health Transition Team.
The economic transition panel, composed of local business leaders and co-chaired by Kevin Voelkel, president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas, and Julissa Carielo, president of Tejas Premier Building Contractors, asks companies to take the Greater. SAfer. Together. pledge and agree to seven practices, including maintaining 6 feet of distance and using hand sanitizer.
Carielo said one of the economic transition team’s tasks was to “create a marketing and PR plan that will restore consumer and visitor confidence.”
Marketing campaigns may prove no match for the pandemic or virus-wary consumers. National and local polls uniformly show solid majorities of adults are not yet comfortable returning to stores, restaurants, and other places where people congregate.
Periodic shortages continue to underscore the public mood and the disruption of national supply chains. For weeks, paper products, notably toilet paper, disappeared as quickly as stockers could place them on store shelves. Now grocers and butchers are having to place limits on meat purchases to stem panic buying.
Coronavirus cases are likely to increase as people move about more freely, epidemiologists warn. Abbott acknowledged as much in a May 3 phone call with Texas legislators and Congress members, according to leaked audio obtained by Quorum Report.
“Listen, the fact of the matter is pretty much every scientific and medical report shows that whenever you have a reopening – whether you want to call it a reopening of businesses or of just a reopening of society – in the aftermath of something like this, it actually will lead to an increase and spread,” Abbott said in the call.
In their own daily briefings to the media and public, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff remain much more cautious in their response to the statewide opening, even as they acknowledge the governor’s authority supersedes their own in managing the opening of public life and the economy.
Locally, elected leaders and public health experts are looking for a sustained decline in the number of new coronavirus cases for a period of 14 days or more. That has not yet happened, and last week saw a surge in cases principally attributed to the coronavirus outbreak in the Bexar County Adult Detention Center, where more than 3,000 prisoners are housed and 700 detention officers work.
Bexar County Detention Deputy Timothy de la Fuente died last week after contracting this virus and was given an honor procession by local law enforcement agencies. One inmate, Clifford Childs, also died.
About 20 percent of all coronavirus cases in Bexar County can be traced to th
The Numbers Can Have a Numbing Effect
Gov. Greg Abbott chose to open Texas even though conditions do not meet official guidelines for reopening drafted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or even the more lax guidelines issued by the Trump administration. The Trump administration shelved the CDC report before it could be published.
By Saturday, more than 1.34 million Americans had tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, with millions more estimated to have contracted the virus. More than 79,500 have died. Models cited by the White House and others predict that number could double by the end of summer. In Texas, with one of the very lowest per capita coronavirus testing rates, more than 37,000 have tested positive and 1,049 have died. In San Antonio, 1,887 have tested positive and 56 have died.
Then there are the other numbers.
Another 3.2 million Americans filed for unemployment in the week ending May 2, bringing the total claims for the last seven weeks to 33 million nationally. The national unemployment rate has gone from 3.5 percent to 14.7 percent, a number not seen since the Great Depression.
Nearly 250,000 people filed for unemployment in Texas in the week ending May 2, bringing the state unemployment claims for that same short period to nearly 2 million. Bexar County’s jobless claims for the same period totaled 74,241, with most of the claims from workers in retail trade, accommodation and food services, administrative and support and waste management, and health care and social assistance.
The rights of tenants versus landlords in the economic crisis is being considered by City Council, whose members are mulling passage of two laws addressing evictions.
San Antonio remains a city standing at a crossroad. Uncertainty is the only certainty.
Looking Ahead, School and Universities to Reopen
A growing number of school districts and higher education institutions announced plans to open for the 2020-21 academic year, although most did so without firm opening dates. Texas A&M University-San Antonio, Our Lady of the Lake University, St. Mary’s University, and the University of Texas at San Antonio officials announced plans to open this fall. School officials emphasized that fall instruction could vary depending on health officials’ recommendations at the time. Classes could be in person, online, or a hybrid.
Parents, school leaders and teachers, and academics are all wrestling with the “new normal.” Enrollment, classes, extracurricular activities, and campus life cannot simply resume as they existed before the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the two most anticipated recognitions of public school educators unfolded online last week. The 19th annual H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards drew a regional audience from Houston to San Antonio to the border and featured guest appearances by actors Matthew McConaughey and Eva Longoria and former San Antonio Spur Matt Bonner. All three were raised in households with a parent who worked as a teacher.
Local winners included Gerardo Villegas Juarez, a fifth grade teacher at Graebner Elementary School in the San Antonio Independent School District who earned $5,000 for himself and an equal sum for his school, and Boerne Independent School District, which was named best small school district. Superintendent Thomas Price accepted the $50,000 prize with words of praise for his staff and their work conducting distance learning after campuses were closed for the remainder of the current academic year.
The annual Trinity Prize winners were announced in the same fashion Friday afternoon in a Zoom event that drew finalists from every school district in Bexar County. Each district nominated a single teacher for one of the two coveted prizes. The winners were Carol Ann Calderon, a third grade and special education teacher at Heritage Elementary in the Southside Independent School District, and Dorothy Cardenas, an elementary dyslexia therapist at Olympia Elementary in the Judson Independent School District.
In the World of Arts and Culture, the Beat Goes On
In the category of a single person can change the city for the better, the announced retirement of Jimmy LeFlore, who for 20 years managed public art programs for the City of San Antonio, caused many to pause and appreciate the impact of his work.
The San Antonio Symphony optimistically announced a full schedule for its 2020-21 season, which will include a farewell appearance by Music Director and Conductor Sebastian Lang-Lessing.
San Antonio’s museums and libraries remained closed. The McNay Art Museum continued to offer two-minute virtual tours, including Fashion Nirvana last week.
The McDonald Observatory’s virtual programs continue, too. If you found yourself gazing at last week’s full moon, you probably will enjoy the observatory’s Live Moon Tour. Astronomers there were the first to measure the exact distance between Earth and the moon in the 1960s, using a ground-based laser beam and a reflector device placed on the moon surface by astronauts.
The best chefs in the United States are recognized annually with the James Beard Awards, an honor that has eluded multiple generations of talented San Antonio chefs. In an announcement delayed by a month due to the coronavirus pandemic, the James Beard Foundation named Cured Chef Steve McHugh one of the five finalists in Texas during its Best Chef Awards announcement on Monday.
Yes, there was other news last week. SAWS marked a milestone last week with the Vista Ridge Pipeline’s completion. The pipeline, in planning since 2013, will account for 20 percent of SAWS water supply.
Health care providers and medical practices began offering nonemergency surgical procedures and preventative medicine checkups and other services.
Joan Cheever and husband Dennis Quinn, founders of the mobile Chow Train, have prepared 44,221 meals over the last seven weeks alone. The meals were distributed by the Catholic Worker House to homeless persons on the East Side, and Meals on Wheels, which delivers to the elderly and disabled.
The San Antonio Botanical Garden celebrated its 40th anniversary on May 3 and has now reopened. The 38-care green space and nature retreat might be the ideal destination for individuals and families yearning for a break from sheltering at home.