San Antonio would spend about $72 million of its federal coronavirus relief money on expanding local testing, contract tracing, education efforts, and emergency training while acquiring more medical and protective gear to combat the spread of the coronavirus under a proposal presented to City Council on Tuesday.

Another $3.5 million in separate federal grants given to the Metropolitan Health District will allow the City to continue to implement its Health Transition Plan into next year, said Assistant City Manager María Villagómez.

San Antonio’s $270 million share of the federal coronavirus relief fund must be spent by Dec. 31 this year, but many of the efforts outlined in the plan need to be in place well beyond that, Villagómez said. The Metro Health grants can be spent through March 2021.

This roughly $75 million implementation budget is preliminary, she added. “We’ll be making adjustments as we go through this pandemic response.”

A more detailed draft budget for the Health Transition Plan will be distributed to Council members on May 25 after Council reviews a proposal for how to use the roughly $200 million remaining relief funds on May 20. Council is slated to vote on the budgets during the first week of June.

There are still other elements of the City’s and community’s response to the coronavirus that are outside of the Health Transition Plan, Villagómez said. That could include more rental and mortgage assistance, expanding internet access, assistance to small businesses, funding for the police department, and acquisition of more personal protective equipment.

Meanwhile, the City is expediting the mid-year adjustment process later this month to prepare for the estimated $200 million shortfall in this year’s budget alone. The CRF cannot be used to make up for lost revenue, though the U.S. Congress is considering a measure that would help keep local governments afloat as revenues from sales and travel taxes as well as utilities plummet nationwide.

The Health Transition Plan was developed by local health experts to guide the region into the post-pandemic world. Part of that plan is to measure indicators that show how widespread the virus is in the community, said Dawn Emerick, director of Metro Health.

The City will need to monitor the virus, expand testing and tracing resources, and assure the community by enforcing emergency orders and educating residents on its efforts, Emerick said.

Infrastructure is in place to train and deploy more contract tracers, who track down where an infected person has been and who they have been in contact with, she said.

The City has also contracted with the Emocha Mobile Health smartphone application for a pilot program that helps patients track symptoms and monitor their own health.

“We will evaluate that at the end of June to see if there is scalability within our organization,” said Emerick, who co-chairs the Testing and Tracing Task Force with Dr. Barbara Taylor. Taylor, an associate professor of infectious diseases and associate dean for the MD/MPH Program at UT Health San Antonio, led the COVID-19 Health Transition Team.

The federal dollars will also cover cost associated with the San Antonio Fire Department’s expansion of its Mobile Integrated Healthcare Program, purchase of decontamination gear, telemedicine, and other medical equipment.

Part of this effort will be to train 100 firefighters and paramedics on how to properly test for the coronavirus going door to door as well as best practices for handling future outbreaks.

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SAFD is also starting to prepare for how to deal with other natural disasters, such as hurricanes, during a pandemic, Fire Chief Charles Hood said. “We’ll be even better prepared for the next outbreak, whenever that comes,” he said.

Click here to download Emerick and Hood’s presentation.

The San Antonio Police Department, Metro Health, Code Enforcement, and other departments will also be ramping up awareness – and citations for violations – of safety requirements at area businesses, Emerick said.

Metro Health will be launching a community survey to collect feedback from residents every two weeks for the next three months that will be analyzed by August. It will be available May 18 online at the SASpeakUp website or by calling the COVID-19 Hotline at 210-207-5779.

Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

Senior reporter Iris Dimmick covers City Hall, politics, development, and more. Contact her at iris@rivardreport.com