Among the state’s major metro areas, San Antonio and Bexar County continue to post the lowest per capita number of coronavirus cases and virus-related deaths, but that is not stopping an ailing local economy from continuing to shed jobs.

The daily release of various statistics tends to blur over time, but some numbers that stand out measure the county’s steady loss of jobs: 7,441 in Bexar County filed for unemployment benefits in the week ending May 16, the latest available numbers from the Texas Workforce Commission. That brought the 30-day job loss total to 46,332. About 125,ooo people have filed jobless claims here since the first week of March.

The continuing job losses are a grim reminder of the inevitable economic aftereffects of the COVID-19 outbreak, despite the remarkable job local elected leaders and public health officials have done in ordering an early shutdown, containing the spread of the virus, increasing testing availability, and assuring that ample hospital beds and equipment are available.

Bexar County is experiencing only 1.31 positive cases per 1,000 residents, compared with 3.63 cases in Dallas County, 3.07 in El Paso County, 2.54 in Travis County, 2.51 in Harris County, and 2.57 in Tarrant County, according to state figures compiled by the Texas Tribune.

As of Saturday, 2,825 people have tested positive for the coronavirus and 73 have died in Bexar County, while 59,766 statewide have tested positive and 1,601 have died. Texas ranks among the least affected populous states as the national death count has now surpassed 100,000.

San Antonio City Council on Thursday reviewed a $191 million proposal that would use some of the City’s federal coronavirus relief money to fund 14 new and existing programs aimed at helping residents and businesses withstand and recover from the economic impact of the pandemic.

The proposal is funded with $79.2 million from the $270 million federal coronavirus relief fund allocated to the City. Federal and local funding will be used for training and education programs for workers in the post-pandemic economy, housing assistance, grants for small businesses, and the expansion of internet access to assist distance learning. Meanwhile, the City is managing its way through a nearly $200 million revenue shortfall for this year.

Even factoring in more than $93 million in federal coronavirus dollars, VIA Metropolitan Transit faces a financial shortfall of $126.2 million over the next five years. VIA is considering reducing bus service, capital project spending, discretionary spending, and reducing staff, VIA CEO and President Jeff Arndt said at a meeting Tuesday.

The reopening continues

Gov. Greg Abbott continued to issue orders authorizing the reopening of business and venues, but many continued to work from home and shelter, limiting outings to shop for groceries and other essentials. Restaurants, bars, and retail shops that chose to reopen offered limited seating and access, while many businesses have remained closed due to continuing health concerns or because it is not economically feasible to operate at reduced capacity.

Local libraries, public pools, and splash pads are set to reopen in June and July. The Tobin Center for the Performing Arts hopes to win state approval for its reopening sometime in June.

A slow Memorial Day weekend

The city’s quiet Memorial Day weekend underscored that tourism is not rebounding, and San Antonio’s downtown hotels, restaurants, and bars that cater to visitors remained quiet or closed.

In early March, passenger traffic at the San Antonio International Airport was on track to surpass last year’s numbers. By month’s end, the number of airport users fell to nearly half that of March 2019, and by April, arrivals and departures had fallen 95 percent. A return to 2019 travel levels isn’t expected until at least 2023, according to an economist with the International Air Transport Association.

Popular public spaces in the city attracted many locals eager to break out of cabin fever after weeks of isolation. The San Antonio River from the Museum Reach to the Mission Reach is seeing record numbers of families with children out for a walk and waves of people riding bikes, jogging, and walking dogs. With the use of facial masks and social distancing no longer mandatory, the majority of people seen in public are not using masks.

Texas saw its highest single-day number of reported new coronavirus cases on Thursday with 1,855, compared with a daily average of 1,072. State officials attributed the spike to increased inmate testing in prisons and a lag in holiday weekend reporting. Public health officials will be watching closely over the summer to see if the reopening kindles a renewed spread of the virus.

Schools leaders explore calendar options

The Texas Education Agency issued new guidelines last week outlining three different possible approaches for the reopening of PK-12 school campuses. As school districts work to determine how to safely resume on-campus instruction for the 2020-21 school year, some school systems are considering a longer academic year that includes more breaks.

In the third of three weekly education forums online that each drew hundreds of viewers, superintendents and other education leaders and experts explored the impact of the premature school year shutdown and the significant emotional toll it has taken on students, parents, and educators.

Bob Popinski, a school finance expert and director of public policy at the nonprofit Raise Your Hand Texas, predicted significant funding cuts in the coming 2021 legislative session as lawmakers wrestle with a multibillion-dollar shortfall.

Funding shortfalls already are in evidence as schools, including the University of Texas at San Antonio, begin to tighten belts and consider workforce reductions in anticipation of declining fall enrollment and reduced state allocations.

Sadly, one local education nonprofit, Yes! Our Kids Can, a four-year-old nonprofit that focused on building self-esteem in young students from families mired in multigenerational poverty, announced the end of its operations last week due to a loss in funding brought about by the shutdown of school campuses.

On the good news front, UTSA has been selected to establish and lead a new $111 million federal research institute focusing on cybersecurity, energy efficiency, and creating manufacturing jobs, the university announced in a statement Wednesday.  

UTSA will receive $70 million throughout a five-year cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy to create the Cybersecurity Manufacturing Innovation Institute

Finding ways to celebrate San Antonio

The McNay Art Museum will not reopen until June 26, but that doesn’t mean curators are not open to what the public has to say about its pandemic experiences.

Earlier this month, the museum launched an effort to collect a “Community COVID-19 Archive” of pandemic-related materials, inviting members of the Bexar County arts community to contribute personal recollections, daily journals, emails to friends and family, images, audio and video recordings, and other documents to the museum.

The Rivard Report‘s weekly, reader-produced series, Where I Live, was written by former San Antonio City Manager Sheryl Sculley, who with her husband, Mike, has lived on the River Walk since moving to the city in 2005. Her essay was a reminder that even amid the pandemic and shutdown, living in San Antonio’s urban core along one of the most attractive linear parks in the country remains a welcome respite.

Readers should take time each week to savor the strong visuals produced by Photo Editor Scott Ball and Photographer Bonnie Arbittier. A curated selection appears each week and serves as a reminder that San Antonio remains a city with remarkable people doing good work.

Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard is editor of the San Antonio Report.