There’s a lot of information about COVID-19 out there, so to cut through the noise, we’ve put together the basics of what you need to know to keep you and your family informed and healthy. With the help of local infectious disease epidemiologist Cherise Rohr-Allegrini, we’ve answered some of the most asked questions about coronavirus symptoms, testing, face masks, and social distancing.

What is social distancing?

It’s the key to stopping the spread of COVID-19. Stay at home when you can and stay at least 6 feet away from other people when you go out.

“It means not sitting next to your friend [or co-worker],” Rohr-Allegrini said. “Outside your household, you really shouldn’t have any physical interaction.”

Keeping healthy people away from sick people will ensure that hospital systems aren’t overrun with patients. 

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

  • Fever
  • Dry cough
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty breathing/shortness of breath
  • Less common: runny nose and stuffy sinuses

Symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days after exposure.

While serious symptoms and death are more common with older people who have underlying conditions, Rohr-Allegrini added, the risk to young adults and children “is not zero.”

The City’s online self-screening tool is one way to check if your symptoms warrant a coronavirus test, but it does not replace a medical diagnosis.

How do I get tested?

Most health care providers and some emergency care clinics can order a test, but call ahead to make an appointment. Some doctors work with private labs that have access to tests while others may send you to Freeman Coliseum. As of April 3, a doctor’s note is no longer required for anyone to get tested there.

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An online self-screening tool asks users about their symptoms and potential exposure to the novel coronavirus. If a user’s answers indicate the possibility of infection, they will be directed to call a phone number to set up an appointment at the coliseum.

If you don’t have insurance or a doctor, you can still get tested if you’re showing symptoms or have been exposed to the virus. Call the Metro Health COVID-19 hotline at 210-207-5779.

Can I still go outside?

If you need to – like for groceries or pet food or even liquor – then yes. But keep your distance (6 feet) from others, avoid touching surfaces, wash your hands, and don’t touch your face. Under the countywide “Stay Home, Work Safe” order, residents can go to stores to get supplies, go to certain workplaces, and exercise outside. 

Basketball courts, skate parks, and playgrounds are closed, though there have been reports of people still using them. For now, most parks remain open but Mayor Ron Nirenberg said he will order them closed if people continue to congregate and fail to practice social distancing.

Parks will be closed during Easter weekend, when thousands of families traditionally camp out in area parks.

Should I be wearing a mask?

Starting Monday, April 20, San Antonio residents ages 10 and older are required to wear face coverings in public spaces where social distancing is difficult, such as at the grocery store or pharmacy.

Residents are advised to wear cloth coverings only and to reserve medical-grade masks such as N-95 respirators for health care workers and first responders.

Face coverings are not required when exercising outside, driving alone or with people in your household, pumping gas or operating outdoor equipment, in a building that requires security surveillance, or eating or drinking. Local entities can no longer impose fines on people who violate the mandate, Gov. Greg Abbott said April 27.

Can I visit family and friends?

If you need to check on them for physical or mental health reasons, of course you can. But maintain your 6-foot distance. It might seem weird, but don’t sit next to them or touch anything. 

The stay-home order prohibits gatherings of 10 or more people, so casual hangouts should be canceled, moved online, or moved to a location outdoors with plenty of room to spread out.

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The order does not prevent individuals experiencing domestic violence from getting help, nor is someone helping a victim of domestic violence prohibited from doing so.

If you suspect someone you know is a victim of abuse, call law enforcement. The Family Violence Prevention Services shelter and hotline (210-733-8810) are open and ready to provide assistance.

Whom should I call if I see someone or know of a business not following the rules?

Call the San Antonio Police Department’s nonemergency line at 210-207-SAPD (7273). If you’re outside City limits, you might be forwarded to the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office.

Violation of the order could carry fines and jail time, but law enforcement officers are not going to pull you over to interrogate you, officials say.

Law enforcement is going to be keeping tabs on businesses – not residents – to make sure they are compliant with the order, District Attorney Joe Gonzales said recently. “We’re going to operate under the assumption that you have a legitimate [reason] to be out on the street.”

Can my pets get sick (or get me sick)?

So far, the CDC has not seen any evidence that pets can spread COVID-19, according to its website. “However, because all animals can carry germs that can make people sick, it’s always a good idea to practice healthy habits around pets and other animals.”

The CDC recommends limiting contact with pets if you think you are sick.

Side note: There are plenty of animals up for adoption or foster care if you’re looking for a furry friend to keep you company while you stay home. Contact Animal Care Services or other shelters such as San Antonio Pets Alive.

I can’t find any hand sanitizer or toilet paper. What should I do?

Don’t freak out. Experts actually recommend washing your hands (thoroughly, for 20 seconds) instead of hand sanitizer. 

Still, hand sanitizer is helpful in a pinch. There are several home recipes you can find, but it’s harder to make than you might think, and the CDC doesn’t recommend relying on it. Several local distilleries are making some that’s available for curbside pickup.

For toilet paper, ask your friends, family, and neighbors. You might be pleasantly surprised by how willing folks are to help. There are also a number of Facebook groups and neighborhood associations that connect people with those who can help. People often post inventory updates of area grocery stores in the SA COVID-19 Help Facebook group.

Once stores get their shelves restocked, just buy what you need for a week or so. Stop hoarding. Don’t be that person. Share with your neighbor.

Should I be sanitizing my groceries?

Many people are using hand wipes on boxes of food, bottles, and other groceries when they get home. 

If it makes you feel better, go for it, said Rohr-Allegrini. “But you can just wash your hands.”

There’s no evidence that food or food packaging is associated with the spread of COVID-19, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

As the state of Texas reopens, our reporters are working tirelessly to distill recommended guidelines by local government and public health leaders so you may stay informed.

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Can I still go to religious ceremonies?

No – but maybe, technically. Let me explain.

Our reporters are risking a lot to be on the streets chronicling this unprecedented crisis and its impact on our health care systems, local economy, and daily lives. We've been asking our readers to show support for this important public service by making a monthly donation or a one-time gift in whatever amount you can afford.

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Under the City and County stay-home orders, religious gatherings of 10 or more people were not considered exempt. Most organizations started doing online and telecommute services.

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Gov. Greg Abbott’s more recent statewide order allows such gatherings to occur if the church can’t financially or technologically accommodate an alternative to gathering in person.

“More detailed guidance from the CDC currently recommends that if a community is experiencing substantial community spread of COVID-19, then the houses of worship in that community should cancel all in-person gatherings of any size,” according to a clarification document provided by Abbott’s office.

Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said they don’t expect local religious leaders to risk the lives of their congregations by hosting large events.

Funerals are allowed as long as folks practice social distancing.

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Do I still have to pay my taxes?

Yes. However, the deadline to pay income taxes has been moved from April 15 to July 15. 

The Bexar Appraisal District wants to freeze property tax valuations but that decision would be up to the State. In the meantime, the district will delay mailing property appraisal notices by 17 days to April 18.

When will this end? Should I cancel my summer vacation? 

That’s hard to say. Experts say a cure or vaccine is at least a year away. But that doesn’t mean the “Stay Home, Work Safe” order will last that long. 

“Don’t cancel [summer] plans, but don’t make them yet,” Rohr-Allegrini said. “We will be able to reopen when we decrease transmission enough that we have a low enough cases to get them tested and isolated.”

One signal that day is coming is when there are 14 consecutive days without a new case, she said, but “we need to get to a threshold where we can control community transmission” with testing, tracing, and tracking.

“We don’t know what that threshold is yet,” she said. 

There will likely be a second wave of positive cases, she added, possibly after the summer. 

“We just don’t know.”

How can I help?

Excellent question. The Rivard Report put together an overview of volunteer and donation opportunities and various nonprofits are launching new initiatives every week. SA2020 has a guide to the needs of its partner organizations here

Still, one of the most helpful things you can do is stay at home, Rohr-Allegrini said. 

Have more questions?

The City of San Antonio set up a hotline 210-207-5779 for all questions relating to COVID-19, the stay-at-home order, and how to find help.

Still have questions? Email iris@rivardreport.com and I’ll  try to get them answered.

Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

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