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While a spike in coronavirus cases was expected following loosened restrictions on businesses, no one understood how bad it could get, said Colleen Bridger, assistant city manager.
Recently reopened businesses are proving to be fertile ground for the city’s second wave, officials said. Mayor Ron Nirenberg said that hospitals are attributing the spike in people testing positive for COVID-19 to three main commercial businesses as disclosed by patients: bars, gyms, and car dealerships.
With 412 more cases of coronavirus reported Friday, the Bexar County caseload – now standing at nearly 6,000 total cases – continued its exponential climb, Nirenberg said at a press briefing Friday. The press briefing was held as a “warning” to residents to practice physical distancing and wear face coverings ahead of Father’s Day weekend, Nirenberg said. The death toll also increased by four and totals 96 local casualties of the coronavirus-caused COVID-19.
“We are unable to see when the surge will slow down,” Nirenberg said. “The best thing you can give Dad this weekend is to continue to work on physical distancing and call him. Don’t host a get-together in the home.”
Fifty-five more COVID-19 patients have been admitted to area hospitals, bringing the total number to 322. Of those patients, 101 are being treated in intensive care units and 50 are on ventilators.
“The numbers are getting awfully high and it is putting stress on our hospital system,” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said. “All indicators are going in the wrong direction, but particularly alarming is the number of people in the hospital.”
Despite the increase in patients, the local hospital capacity remains relatively steady. But Bridger said that if positive tests and hospitalizations continue to increase rapidly, hospitals may have to scale back on elective procedures, or the City may build a pop-up field hospital to help treat the overflow of COVID-19 patients.
“We monitor hospital availability and the number of people on ventilators, but if the numbers continue to increase rapidly and more people need to be admitted to hospitals,” there could be a shortage of necessary equipment, Bridger said.
Nirenberg said that the frustrating thing about the increase in numbers of both cases and hospitalizations is that people are “simply letting their guard down” by neither wearing masks nor practicing physical distancing.
“We can do this. We can open the economy and open businesses and go back to life as it was if people just do the simple things,” Nirenberg said. “If we don’t take these measures seriously, it’s going to get worse.”
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Wolff issued an executive order Wednesday requiring all “commercial entities” in Bexar County to implement a health and safety policy that includes mandatory face coverings in situations involving close contact with others. Failure to implement the policy by Monday could result in a fine up to $1,000.
Wolff said that come Monday when the new mandate requiring face masks for all employees and patrons of commercial businesses goes into effect, officials are hopeful that the number of people testing positive will decrease, but it’s “irresponsible for people to go out and act like COVID-19 doesn’t exist.”
“People cannot go out and act like they are invincible because they are young or healthy,” Wolff said. “If you are going to go out, listen to the health experts,” and heed their advice on how to stay safe, he said.