WATCH: Metro Health working to expand testing to areas with ‘provider deserts'

Coronavirus update from San Antonio Mayor Nirenberg, Bexar County Judge Wolff 4/21/20

SAN ANTONIOEditor’s Note: Watch the entire briefing in the video player above. Newsletter recipients can click here to access the video.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff updated the community about the local response to COVID-19 in their daily briefing Tuesday night.

Here are a few of the highlights:

  • Nirenberg reported 1,080 COVID-19 cases and 39 deaths in Bexar County, as of Tuesday. He said 82 patients are in the hospital, 41 are in intensive care, 24 are on ventilators and 325 have recovered. Fifty cases are under investigation. The county has 78% of ventilators available and 37% of staffed beds available.
  • Nirenberg talked about the formation of the Economic Transition Team, which consists of 20 people from the community, including owners and officials of small businesses and large corporations. The team will come up with ways to reopen the community with the help of COVID-19 data available. A report by the team is expected by the end of this week, Nirenberg said.
  • Wolff said the Commissioners Court approved a rental assistance program that will be headed by the Bexar County Housing Authority. He said the City of San Antonio already had its own comprehensive program that includes other parts, so it was best to have a simpler program for the county under the housing authority.
  • Wolff said 64 loans through Liftfund have been given out to local businesses.
  • Dr. Dawn Emerick, director of the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, said Metro Health is working to provide more testing in areas with “provider deserts,” such as the South Side. She said more drive-thru sites are coming and will expand to serve people in those areas.
  • Emerick said the problem -- although it has somewhat improved -- is there still aren’t enough materials for specimen collection across the country.
  • Emerick said the Freeman Coliseum drive-thru testing site accounts for 22% of testing in Bexar County. She said the highest number of tests come from emergency rooms and hospitals, and more private providers are also offering the service.
  • Emerick said big laboratories were struggling with not having enough reagents to do testing and their turnaround for results was slow. She said she’d like to see small testing efforts in which Metro Health can manage the reagent and testing sites.
  • Emerick said a West Side Walmart location has been selected for a new testing site. However, negotiations are still underway. She also said negotiations are still ongoing for potentially three additional drive-thru testing sites for the area.
  • Metro Health is looking at access to testing and affordability to determine where to best place new testing sites, but officials are targeting areas where there are more people who have underlying health conditions and older populations, Emerick said.
  • Metro Health is working to determine the number of testing sites needed throughout the area by the end of the week, Emerick said. She said they will give out surveys to the health care community and local community to make that determination.
  • While criteria for testing has expanded, Emerick said Metro Health is not testing asymptomatic people right now.

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.

ADDENDUM TO STAY HOME, WORK SAFE ORDER (Newsletter subscribers, click here to view.)

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About the Author:

Ivan Herrera has worked as a journalist in San Antonio since 2016. His work for KSAT 12 and KSAT.com includes breaking news, COVID-19 coverage, personal finance stories on the "Money: It's Personal" series, as well as producing Q&As and content for the "South Texas Pride" series.