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South Side: Pandemic creates ‘new normal’

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South Side residents adjusted to a “new normal” during the response to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Adapting to government-ordered stay-in-place rules meant virtual Easter rituals instead of going to church; restaurants closing dining rooms, but fulfilling orders through takeout, grab-and-go, curbside service or online orders and deliveries; and kids doing classroom work from home, either through distance learning or via paperwork supplied by schools.

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease denoting a strain of coronavirus, which first appeared in Wuhan, China, in late 2019. The disease spread across the planet, leading the World Health Organization in March to declare a pandemic.

The city and county issued lockdown directives in late March, and later extended those, closing nonessential businesses, stressing social distancing of 6 feet and limiting gatherings to 10 people or less.

Campuses also shuttered, with Harlandale, San Antonio and Southside independent school districts not planning to reopen the rest of the school year.

During Easter weekend, South Side life was anything but routine.

Curbside-pickup customers jammed parking lots at Chili’s and Don Pedro Mexican Restaurant. A block-long line of vehicles queued for snacks or a drink at Beer N’ All with nearly hourlong waits.

Though it’s a restaurant, Don Pedro — like many eateries displaying innovation during the pandemic — also sold groceries so customers didn’t have to wait in lines at larger retailers.

COVID-19 forced unprecedented closures of Confluence, Espada and Acequia parks, and the latter’s pavilion; in fact, all San Antonio parks where Easter celebrations are the norm.

San Antonio Metropolitan Health District’s Community Health and Prevention teams started hand-delivering information about social distancing in early April and were expected to visit 30,000 homes on the South, West and East sides.

The holiday saw families housebound, unable to gather in large groups.

South Side resident Patricia Garcia Duarte, on the board of her neighborhood association, wasn’t about to break the quarantine.

In early April, Duarte began planning a virtual Easter family celebration.

“I found out Zoom is really popular. Skype is also popular and was better for my family,” she said.

“And, I sent out an invitation letting the family know to mute any background noises.”

For best results, Duarte created an agenda and a timeline.

“We started off with a greeting. Then, we did a prayer and a toast. And, we shared some photos and videos,” she said.

Duarte also had cascarones remaining from last year, so she and her teenage son orchestrated a virtual egg hunt in the backyard.

“My son took the laptop out in the yard and panned the area where the eggs were hidden for the younger children, then challenged the kids to find them,” she said.

She added, “Each egg was worth a dollar, and I’ll just send them the money later.”

Donna Hernandez lives near Southton Road and Loop 410 South in a neighborhood adjacent to the “ghost tracks,” a portion of railroad so named because of an urban legend about it being haunted.

She said it’s often frequented by cyclists, but not lately.

Hernandez didn’t see the usual Easter decorations and said more people put bears in windows than Easter Bunny ornaments.

Paper bears on panes and front lawns give homeschooled children the chance to explore outside and go on a “bear hunt.”   

“I don’t think people broke the quarantine around here for Easter,” Hernandez said.

She also was disappointed cascaron and piñata vendors were missing from Military Drive.

Hernandez, her husband, and daughter planned a social-distancing dinner with relatives who live down the street.

“We usually celebrate with my husband’s family. In the morning we go to church, and then we go to a brunch at the Embassy Suites. They put on a beautiful brunch and they usually have an Easter Bunny there. It (wasn’t) the same this year,” she said.

But, Hernandez did find one social-distancing positive.

“In the past few weeks, I have seen more of my neighbors this month than I have in the past 10 years that I’ve lived here. Everybody is out walking with their kids and riding bikes. I like seeing all the families out,” she said.

Voting also wasn’t immune to shifts caused by the pandemic.

Runoffs resulting from the March 3 party primaries were moved to July 14, with early voting starting July 6.

A May 2 decision by voters whether to extend a 1/8-cent sales tax for another eight years to fund the city’s Pre-K 4 SA program will now be Nov. 3 during the general election.

Southside ISD constituents originally scheduled May 2 to determine a $64.7 million bond to better accommodate a growing population now must wait until Nov. 3.

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