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Bexar County officials announce changes to jail, courts and county offices amid rising COVID-19 cases

Bexar County Judge said he expected cases to rise as testing increases

SAN ANTONIO – Bexar County officials held a news conference on Wednesday to announce changes to operating procedures aimed at limiting exposure to the new coronavirus, and new initiatives to help people who may be economically impacted by the outbreak.

Bexar County Commissioners Court will extend the emergency declaration for 90 days, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said.

*scroll to end of article to read full declaration.

Wolff said he’s expecting the number of cases to increase Wednesday with additional COVID-19 testing being made available, therefore county leaders are doubling down on efforts to increase social distancing.

Watch the news conference below:

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Bexar County Sheriff’s Office and Jail

Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said he’s taking measures to protect his deputies and the public from COVID-19.

“We’re used to dealing with bad guys and bullets, you throw a pandemic like COVID-19 at us and it’s a game changer for us,” Salazar said.

Deputies must submit to temperature checks as they enter county facilities, and there are changes being implemented about the kinds of calls deputies will respond to and how they should respond.

“We’re trying to increase calls over the phone and online to keep deputies safe,” Salazar said.

Deputies are increasing their presence outside stores because of high-traffic and high-tempers among customers, Salazar said.

“As much as we encourage people not to frenzy buy, it’s happening,” Salazar said.

Deputies are being instructed not to unnecessarily enter businesses and homes, but to conduct interviews outside instead.

There are also new procedures at the Bexar County Jail. Inmates are being screened before they enter the jail. Anyone with a fever will be diverted elsewhere, Salazar said. As of Wednesday morning, only one inmate has been diverted to the hospital so far.

BCSO is working with the district attorney’s office to keep the jail population down.

“Jails serve a purpose in our community, but it’s also a distinct possibility that jail can act as an incubator and amplifier for illness,” Salazar said.

Bexar County District Attorney

Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales said his office is also trying to conduct more business by phone, text and email. Gonzales said interviews will be conducted using those means rather than asking someone to come down to his office in person right now.

Gonzales expressed concern that with added stress and more time at home, there could be an increase of domestic violence. He urged victims to continue to reach out to the Bexar County Family Justice Center by phone at 210-631-0100.

Read Gonzales’ full statement:

WATCH: Supplemental order issued on courtroom actions

Bexar County Courts

The courthouses are still open and court cases are continuing with priority given to jail cases, county leaders said.

No jury trials, no juries empaneled at criminal district, county courts in Bexar County

Criminal courts are utilizing teleconferencing to increase social distancing.

The magistrate judges are using personal recognizance bonds to help clear non-violent offenders from jail.

In the civil courts, most trials and hearings have been suspended, including child support cases, and only essential civil hearings are taking place, county leaders said. Judges are also utilizing audio and video conferencing for those court procedures.

In view of recent federal guidelines that have been put into effect that ask that personal gatherings be limited to no more than 10 people, Administrative Judge Ron Rangel on Wednesday issued a supplemental order relative to bond hearings.

“As of now attorneys don’t have to come in and they don’t have to file anything,” Rangel said. “Cases will automatically be reset," Rangel said, “The courts will remain open with the understanding that case involving defendants in custody will be resolved as quickly as possible.

Rangel said the latest order takes into consideration both public safety and judicial economy. The supplemental order comes on the heels of an earlier order that temporarily stops jury trials. Both orders remain in effect through May 1st.

Bexar County Tax Assessor

Bexar County Tax Assessor-Collector Albert Uresti said his office will limit in-person visits for the next 30 days and urged people to make tax payments by email, mail or through the website. Three of the four tax office locations will be providing curbside drop-off services for property tax payments from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. and from 11 a.m. to 1:00 PM.

Uresti also said he is instructing the Linebarger Tax Attorney Law Firm to work with the Sheriff’s Office and cancel all delinquent property tax foreclosure sales for the months of April and May.

Uresti said he is also working with the Sheriff’s Office to try to get any mortgage foreclosure sales halted during the same period.

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Read Uresti’s full statement:

Financial Help for Small Businesses

Precinct 2 Commissioner Justin Rodriguez said the county is working on a program to provide interest-free loans to local businesses. Rodriguez said the program would invest $5 million in businesses that have suffered financial losses because of COVID-19. He also mentioned $250,000 in grants, though it was not clear if that money was in addition to - or part of - the $5 million.

The loans, administered through LiftFund, would have a 4-month grace period before payments would be due.

“As an example, we might be able to deploy a $10,000 loan to a small business to help meet their payroll. If we’re able to do that, that’s about 500 small businesses in our community that we can help,” Rodriguez said.

County officials anticipate staff will have a recommendation at the next commissioner’s court meeting on Tuesday.

Rodriguez said a COVID-19 disaster response fund was being created through the San Antonio Area Foundation and United Way to help families who have been affected. Details on that fund would be announced shortly, he said.

Restaurants and Bars

Wolff said the county is not going to force restaurants and bars to close at this time.

“Restaurants are making efforts on their own (to limit risks),” Wolff said. “I eat out every day and I’m going to keep eating out every day.”

Executive Order:

Watch Wednesday’s full press conference:

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