San Antonio official explains rationale behind what it releases to public during COVID-19 pandemic

City working with private labs to provide more accurate picture of how many people have been tested

San Antonio – San Antonio Assistant City Manager Dr. Colleen Bridger on Monday answered a plethora of questions from KSAT about the city’s handling of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Bridger said, at least for now, the city does not plan on releasing the names and exact ages of people who die from the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus.

“That’s not at the top of our priority list right now. We need to talk that through and I need to think that through,” said Bridger.

When asked what her current priorities are, Bridger provided the following list:

1. Stop the spread of COVID-19

2. Make sure the health care system has everything it needs to continue to operate properly

3. Keep everyone in the loop on the latest information

A day after a city spokesperson said a woman in her 80′s being treated for COVID-19 and underlying health conditions at Brooke Army Medical Center had died, marking Bexar County’s first death related to the respiratory disease, a BAMC spokesman told the KSAT 12 Defenders Monday morning that the victim was not a patient at that hospital.

City officials clarified Monday afternoon that the woman had been moved to a hospice care facility prior to her death.

Officials have so far declined to release her identity.

RELATED: San Antonio mayor to announce ‘Stay Home, Work Safe Order’

Can San Antonio’s major hospitals test for COVID-19?

Bridger said yes, however, city officials are still encouraging them and working with them to refer people to the drive-through testing location at Freeman Coliseum.

Why not release the exact ages of people who test positive for COVID-19?

Bridger said the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, prevents Metro Health from releasing exact ages of people who test positive because it is still a small sample size and age is considered personally identifiable information.

“When you have a small number of cases, if there’s only one 17-year-old for example who tests positive for COVID-19, you’re next door neighbor has a 17-year-old who is sick, you might connect the dots,” said Bridger, explaining the city’s rationale.

Are JBSA cases included in the number of COVID-19 cases reported in Bexar County by Metro Health?

Bridger said the federal evacuees brought to Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland to be quarantined are not counted for the Bexar County figures.

However, she said people assigned to JBSA, whether it be at Ft. Sam Houston, Lackland or Randolph Air Force Bases, are counted in the local count.

She also added that people being treated at BAMC are counted in the Bexar County figures.

MORE: Bexar County now has 57 COVID-19 cases, 1 death; 16 spread in community

What about the private lab results for COVID-19?

Bridger said the private laboratories conducting COVID-19 tests are now part of a testing task force that meets every other day.

While these labs have been providing Metro Health figures for positive results, Bridger said the city has now briefed these labs on how to provide figures for the number of negative test results as well.

Both figures will eventually be posted in the city’s daily COVID-19 updates, Bridger said.

What counties does Metro Health process COVID-19 tests for?

Metro Health is responsible for processing COVID-19 tests gathered in close to 30 counties, stretching from Val Verde County to Calhoun County.

Bridger cleared up the misconception that Metro Health employees are collecting specimens throughout the region.

“That doesn’t mean that Metro Health staff are out in other counties collecting those tests. But when state and local health officials in those counties collect the specimen, they ship it to our lab and our lab runs those tests,” said Bridger.

COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new virus, stands for coronavirus disease 2019. The disease first appeared in late 2019 in Wuhan, China, but spread around the world in early 2020, causing the World Health Organization to declare a pandemic in March.


About the Authors:

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined KSAT Investigates in September 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat and on the Six O'Clock News. Dillon is a two-time Houston Press Club Journalist of the Year and a Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Reporter of the Year.

Joshua Saunders is an Emmy-nominated photographer/editor who has worked in the San Antonio market for the past 20 years. Joshua works in the Defenders unit, covering crime and corruption throughout the city.