South Side leaders and residents are lending each other a helping hand as the state and city work to safely ease COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
By early May, Texas malls, retailers and movie theaters reopened, with restaurants allowed dine-in service, all with occupancy limits, according to orders issued April 27 by Gov. Greg Abbott.
Nail salons, hairdressers, barbershops and gyms are also operating again — but with social-distancing requirements still in place to slow the spread of the highly infectious novel strain of coronavirus.
Schools and colleges were ordered to remain closed for the rest of the academic year, as students engaged in distance learning.
Although San Antonio and Bexar County’s business and public-health limitations cannot exceed those placed by the state, the city and county have strengthened safety requirements and launched assistance programs.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg and County Judge Nelson Wolff issued new orders requiring the continued use of facial coverings in public places where social distancing is a challenge, including workplaces.
In mid-May, a letter from the state Attorney General’s Office cautioned both men not to issue decrees that are not aligned with state orders.
City and county mandates also limited the size of social gatherings, extended suspension of evictions and foreclosures, and boosted safety at nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.
A localized outbreak at the Southeast Nursing and Rehabilitation Center resulted in several residents and an employee dying, officials said.
Two teams of appointed local experts and civic leaders recommended further safety measures, increased testing and surveillance of the virus, and ways businesses could safely operate. Gov. Greg Abbott also ordered testing at assisted-living facilities.
Wolff and Nirenberg said wearing masks in public is one key to slowing the spread of COVID-19. Orders from the governor encourage masks but do not make them mandatory.
“(The governor’s plan) is not going to be successful without the guidelines we put in,” Wolff said in a press briefing.
“Social distancing and other commonsense measures recommended by our public-safety officials have been successful,” Nirenberg added in a statement.
But, some South Siders fear a fast return to normality following a weekslong statewide lockdown may be unwise. Health experts say another wave is likely, even as virus outbreaks wane for now.
“The worst is to come since businesses are going to open and there are still cases of coronavirus in our city every day,” resident Rosalinda Saenz said.
“I am concerned about the people that won’t take it seriously, and put others in jeopardy,” resident Veronica Franz added.
Facing a $180 million revenue shortfall, the city received $270 million in federal dollars to help offset pandemic costs.
San Antonio also created a $25 million fund for eligible residents to address rent, mortgage, utilities, internet access, groceries, medicine and fuel.
“I’m proud to see the city adopt this program that helps our most vulnerable residents pay their critical bills so they can stay in their homes and feed their families,” District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran said in a statement.
The county began a $4 million package to provide a maximum of three months of rental aid for inhabitants feeling the effects of a job loss or furlough.
County leaders, however, said a $5 million loan-assistance program for small businesses might need replenishment because the existing pot is nearly empty.
The South San Antonio Chamber of Commerce is offering relief for business owners denied the federal Paycheck Protection Program.
“We want to help share your story and the impact this resource would have on your business,” chamber President/CEO Al Arreola Jr. told chamber members.
Arreola can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 210-240-1764.
Meanwhile, some local merchants are taking matters into their own hands.
Pica Pica Plaza co-owner Al Honigblum leads the Lots of Love initiative, which has raised about $500,000 for the San Antonio Food Bank. The plaza parking lot has been used for drive-thru food distribution.
Folklores Coffee House, 5009 S. Flores St., suspended regular service in March.
But, proprietors Tatu and Emilie Herrera worried how elderly residents would feed themselves while grocery stores saw long lines and panic-buying.
“We thought about being proactive for our community,” Tatu Herrera said. They used their own cash to buy produce and dry goods, and sought out needy residents via Facebook.
Deliveries were made to those neighbors. More responses arrived online, leading to a request for volunteer drivers.
The Herreras created a GoFundMe campaign (https://tinyurl.com/y9jjmvk8), raising money to buy more supplies individuals can use to fix meals lasting two or three days. Tatu Herrera, a chef, enlisted assistance from other cooks and food-truck owners.
Folklores had donated free victuals to about 4,000 seniors on the South, West and East sides by late April. Monetary donations and nonperishables to the Herreras are still welcome. Requests from more local seniors, too, are encouraged.
“We’ll keep going until we can’t go anymore,” Herrera said.
More COVID-19 information can be found at https://www.sanantonio.gov and www.bexar.org.