Infectious disease expert says Texas’ plan to reopen is too soon for San Antonio

‘This is based on science... this is not about politics’

SAN ANTONIO – “This is too early for us.”

Dr. Ruth Berggren, an infectious disease specialist with the Long School of Medicine at UT Health San Antonio and a member of San Antonio/Bexar County’s Health Transition Team, says she’s worried that the state’s plan is premature for San Antonio.

Berggren said during a Q&A session on KSAT Tuesday night that Texas is a big state, and while some places may be ready to open, San Antonio is not.

“This is purely based on science, data and evidence and infectious disease risks, this is not about politics,” Berggren said.

Berggren said the transition team based their recommendations for San Antonio on four progress indicators:

  • A sustained decline in the number of new COVID-19 cases over a 14-day period.
  • The ability to perform tests for the virus in all people with COVID-19 symptoms, their close contacts, and anyone working in a public-facing role.
  • Effective contact tracing capacity to identify close contacts of people diagnosed with COVID-19.
  • A prepared healthcare system that can safely care for patients and a steady supply of personal protective equipment.

Berggren said Bexar County has not had a sustained decline for 14 days -- we’ve only had a decline for three days. She said the county also doesn’t have enough tests to meet the testing recommendations from the governor.

Read more about the COVID-19 Health Transition Team’s report

“We have 1,600 tests a day that we can do. We need 3,000,” Berggren said.

We also don’t have the number of workers in place for contract tracing, according to Berggren.

“There’s really only one that we’re on very solid ground,” Berggren said. Our healthcare system is prepared, she said.

So now that the governor has set in motion the plan to reopen businesses, Berggren said we will need to rely on the warning indicators to determine what to do next.

The team’s warning indicators for San Antonio are:

  • A decrease in the number of days it takes for the number of COVID-19 cases to double (known as doubling time).
  • An increase in the percentage of positive COVID-19 cases.
  • An increase in indicators of health system stress, like reductions of PPE, hospital bed and ventilator capacity, and the number of calls made for emergency medical services.

“If we start seeing a decrease in the time it takes to double the number of cases or see the hospitals being stressed, then we need to come up with guidance about retreating, or at least holding off before going to the next phase,” Berggren said.

Berggren is also concerned by the fact that Gov. Abbott will not mandate face coverings.

“It really opens the door for people to disregard this recommendation all together and that’s a concern," she said.

Berggren said right now it’s not safe to go out without a mask.

“If we relax all of our restrictions and go back to the way we were before, we will have a big surge and all of the little peaks we’ve seen will be like little foothills,” Berggren said.

Berggren also addressed some KSAT viewer questions. Click on the questions below to see her responses:

KSAT12 is working hard to get answers to the most important questions you have about the new coronavirus and COVID-19.

Every weekday night during the 6 p.m. broadcast news and during the streaming KSAT News at Nine, we will have experts on to answer your questions and give the latest information about COVID-19.

Find more answers and ask your own questions on our SAQ page.

About the Authors

Julie Moreno has worked in local television news for more than 25 years. She came to KSAT as a news producer in 2000. After producing thousands of newscasts, she transitioned to the digital team in 2015. She writes on a wide variety of topics from breaking news to trending stories and manages KSAT’s daily digital content strategy.

Steve Spriester started at KSAT in 1995 as a general assignments reporter. Now, he anchors the station's top-rated 5, 6 and 10 p.m. newscasts.

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