Local leaders are strongly urging people to return to wearing a mask inside public places, regardless of their COVID-19 vaccination status, to help temper a sharp rise in coronavirus-related cases and hospitalizations.
According to data released July 28 by San Antonio Metropolitan Health, the community’s COVID positivity rate has reached 17%, with the highly contagious Delta variant accounting for nearly 90% of local COVID-related hospitalizations.
Officials from San Antonio and Bexar County gathered July 28 to voice their support for the call for mask-wearing, adding that they are following similar guidance just issued by the Centers for Disease Control.
Local officials at a news conference also lamented a slowdown in the number of people getting vaccinated against COVID-19. At least 95% of hospitalizations are in unvaccinated individuals, Metro Health officials said.
“Vaccines are the best way to stop the spread of this deadly virus. Please get vaccinated to protect yourself from severe infection, hospitalization or even death,” said Mayor Ron Nirenberg.
“This pandemic is not over. Let’s each do our part by getting vaccinated if eligible and wearing masks to protect ourselves and our loved ones. Do it for you. Do it for your family. Please, do it for San Antonio.”
County Judge Nelson Wolff added: “Due to the highly contagious delta variant, it is extremely important that people mask in public facilities to once again slow the spread of this virus. The vaccine is also the best tool we have to continue the fight against COVID. It is safe, effective, and free.”
The 17% community positivity rate is the highest that COVID number has been since last, when 8,000 to 13,000 people tested positive for COVID-19.
As of July 27, 585 COVID-19 patients are in area hospitals, with 182 in the ICU and 76 on ventilators.
“Our reported cases continue to trend up and are mostly driven by unvaccinated individuals,” said Claude Jacob, Metro Health’s new director.
“It’s also why we’re seeing an increase among individuals being admitted to the hospital. These hospitalizations are largely avoidable if you are fully vaccinated to prevent from becoming seriously ill.”
With the rise of Delta variant-related cases and hospitalizations across many parts of the United States and in several other countries, CDC is going back to back to recommending wearing a mask indoors, in spots where individuals – especially the unvaccinated -are at high risk of transmission.
The city of San Antonio is already acting to reduce risk of transmission in some of its activities, including suspending its curbside frozen meal distribution and delivery at senior centers through Sept. 30.
But Texas local governments and public school districts are limited on what they could do to bolster public health requirements in the face of an unwavering pandemic.
A number of officials in particularly larger Texas metropolitan areas and school districts, including Nirenberg and Wolff, formally asked Gov. Greg Abbott to give them some flexibility on mask requirements.
But on July 29, Abbott issued one executive order that reinforces a previous order prohibiting governmental entities, include cities, counties and school districts, from issuing their own mask mandates.
The newest order goes further, prohibiting local governments receiving state funds from administering their own vaccine requirements.
“The new executive order emphasizes that the path forward relies on personal responsibility rather than government mandates,” Abbott said.
For its part, the federal government will ask all civilian federal employees to “attest” they’ve been vaccinated, or submit to COVID-19 testing and masking guidelines.
With employees and students gearing up to return to in-person classes in schools, Metro Health recommends students, teachers and staff use masks while indoors, including on school buses.
Metro Health also recommends that when it is not possible to maintain a physical distance of at least three feet. Social distancing of at least six feet is recommended between students and teachers and staff, and between teachers and staff who are not fully vaccinated.
Officials are particularly concerned about schools because children ages 11 and under are not yet eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccination.
“COVID-19 vaccines are available and can help our children remain as safe as possible from the virus, so they can focus on learning,” Jacob said.
The city of San Antonio will continue hosting vaccine pop-up clinics in neighborhoods across town.