If social distancing stops, models estimate 920K COVID-19 cases in San Antonio area by August

UTSA’s Dr. Juan Gutierrez behind one of the models being used to track COVID-19 in Bexar County

’The pathogen continues its relentless march’: UTSA professor details what could happen without social distancing in San Antonio

SAN ANTONIO – While we look ahead to restrictions slowly being lifted to our “Stay Home, Work Safe Orders,” the University of Texas at San Antonio professor responsible for one of the COVID-19 models in Bexar County is advising caution before re-opening schools and businesses too early.

“I recognize the urgency and the need to restart the economy. We have to take care of our people,” said Dr. Juan Gutierrez, chair of mathematics at UTSA. “However, we have to do it in a way that will not create a problem for everybody in a few months or a few weeks if this pathogen continues to be progressing at the speed with which it has been progressing.”

Gutierrez was tabbed by the city and county due to his work in multi-scale modeling in the field of epidemiology. He has researched how infectious diseases spread for years.

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Gutierrez said removing social distancing measures could result in what we are seeing in other countries that have been hit by a second wave of COVID-19.

“Japan today offers a stark warning of what could happen if we’re not careful. They created a lockdown that lasted a few weeks,” said Gutierrez. “Today after restarting, their health system is being crushed.”

Less than a month ago, Singapore was hailed for having the correct response to COVID-19. Now, cases are skyrocketing in that country.

“They went from 1,000 to 6,000 in the last week,” said Gutierrez. “So it’s a warning. Be careful. This is a very contagious pathogen.”

Gutierrez’s latest models show that if social distancing is eliminated in Bexar County, we could reach 920,000 total cases by the end of August with a peak of 390,000 active cases. It could also overwhelm our health system.

The models change daily and look at a variety of scenarios. According to his latest report, an increase of 50 percent mobility would result in 7,800 cases in Bexar County.

Gutierrez explains that particular mobility percentage as the half-way point between now and life as it was just two months ago.

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“Here is the risk. The pathogen continues its relentless march toward infecting everybody, our health system could be clogged very quickly,” said Gutierrez.

San Antonio and Bexar County have remained ahead of the curve compared to other major cities.

But until there is an understanding of who is immune and how many people have been infected, Gutierrez advises playing it safe until there is a vaccine or adapt to our current conditions.

“We have never seen a pathogen advancing so fast. This is new to all of us,” said Gutierrez. “What matters is that people who are infected find less opportunities to transmit the pathogen to somebody who is healthy."

Even with a potential vaccine in the future, Gutierrez believes COVID-19 will affect our way of life for years to come.

“COVID will keep coming. We just have to be prepared to deal with it in a way that doesn’t hurt the most vulnerable population,” said Gutierrez.

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:

RJ Marquez is co-host of KSAT News Now and reports for Good Morning San Antonio. He's been at KSAT since 2010 and covered a variety of stories and events across the San Antonio area. He also covers the Spurs for on-air and digital platforms, including his Spurs newsletter. RJ has reported stories for KSAT Explains.

Valerie Gomez is lead video editor and graphic artist for KSAT Explains. She began her career in 2014 and has been with KSAT since 2017. She helped create KSAT’s first digital-only newscast in 2018, and her work on KSAT Explains and various specials have earned her a Gracie Award from the Alliance for Women in Media and multiple Emmy nominations.