With precautions against the spread of coronavirus having a significant impact on business activity, Bexar County has committed to bringing relief to small businesses.

County officials said Wednesday they are working with microlender LiftFund to deploy $5 million in interest-free loans for small businesses.

“We anticipate help from state and federal partners in short order, but the beautiful thing about working on a local level is we don’t have to wait,” said Commissioner Justin Rodriguez (Pct. 2). “We can act now.”

Rodriguez is also working to provide $200,000 in grants to mom-and-pop operations, mainly businesses with only a few employees, to help them pay workers. County staff will bring recommendations to commissioners about how to give out loans in the next commissioners meeting on March 24.

County commissioners also approved a 90-day extension of the county’s public health emergency on Wednesday. Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff declared a state of emergency earlier in March, and the extension allows him more time to use emergency powers as county judge.

Before Wednesday’s meeting, county leaders updated the news media on their respective departments’ responses to the coronavirus. Sheriff Javier Salazar said that his agency is working to keep the Bexar County Jail population healthy by monitoring the temperatures of incoming inmates and those being released.

The jail serves an important purpose in the community, and many of the people in jail need to be there, Salazar said. “But in a situation like this, in a pandemic, it’s a possibility that jail can act as an incubator for sickness and an amplifier,” he said.

On Tuesday night, the jail had released about 40 people. Salazar said he could not state whether those releases were intended to decrease the jail population in the face of coronavirus or were previously scheduled releases.

District Attorney Joe Gonzales said he hopes judges will use different jail-diversion tools, such as personal recognizance bonds, to keep nonviolent misdemeanor offenders out of the county jail during the coronavirus epidemic.

“We never want to do anything that’ll compromise the safety of Bexar County, but we should be concerned with the number [of people] in jail who are confined in small spaces,” he said.

District and county courts will not have jury trials until at least April 27, according to the district attorney’s office. Civil courts have limited their dockets, said 225th District Court Judge Peter Sakai.

“We basically have suspended jury trial on the civil side until further notice,” he said. “We’re now only doing essential hearings, which means we have really downsized footprint of public presence.”

Most of those essential hearings involve family and children, Sakai said. Trials conducted in the past week had only the judge and court reporter in the courtroom, while everyone else participated via teleconference.

Attorneys are also able to use teleconferences to meet with their incarcerated clients in criminal cases, 379th Criminal District Court Judge Ron Rangel said. The magistrates continue to operate 24 hours a day, he added, and have made sure nonviolent offenders are diverted from the jail by using personal recognizance bonds, which do not involve a fee and instead have people sign an agreement to show up to court at a later date.

Meanwhile, Bexar County sheriff’s deputies will have their temperatures taken when they enter headquarters, Salazar said. He also has instructed deputies to use their best judgment and avoid unnecessarily entering businesses or homes.

Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang is a general assignment reporter at the Rivard Report.