92ºF

We asked every San Antonio City Council member why COVID-19 cases are spiking, what should be done

Several council members say Gov. Abbott's premature reopening led to sharp increase

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and City Council meet on April 9, 2020.
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and City Council meet on April 9, 2020. (KSAT)

SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio has set daily records for new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations multiple times in the last week and the current 7-day average of new cases dwarfs every week from the first four months of the pandemic.

This weekend San Antonio was named a U.S. hotspot for coronavirus, among the 5 cities seeing the fastest growth in new cases last week, along with Interstate 35 neighbor Austin.

DATA: Track daily spikes, new COVID-19 cases here

Other major cities across Texas are also seeing record numbers of new cases and hospitalizations a few weeks after Governor Greg Abbott moved aggressively to reopen restaurants, bars and other parts of the economy. In doing so, Abbott handcuffed local governments’ ability to mandate masks or keep certain establishments closed. Several council members told KSAT that they believe premature reopening is a major reason for the sharp increase.

Some localized outbreaks in jails, prisons, nursing homes and other congregate settings have also contributed to the sharp increase, as well as more widely available testing, Abbott has said. The governor said the statewide spikes are reason to remain vigilant but not cause for alarm, since the hospital capacity remains healthy and many of those infected with the virus do not have life-threatening symptoms. Still, local hospital leaders have warned that hospitalizations could be up tenfold by August if trends hold.

On Monday, a new executive order from Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff went into effect, requiring businesses to mandate face masks for employees and patrons. Other counties in the state followed Bexar County’s lead after Abbott blessed Wolff’s order as enforceable last week.

It can take more than two weeks from a time someone catches the virus until the city reports it as a new case. That delay — combined with the fact that COVID-19 can be spread by an asymptomatic carrier — makes policymaking and convincing the general public to stay vigilant and maintain best safety practices challenging, experts say.

So KSAT asked every City Council member, as well as Mayor Ron Nirenberg, if they are concerned by the new spikes in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, what they believe is the cause and what should be done to respond. See your representative’s response, in full, below. (Not sure who your council representative is? Check here.)

Mayor Ron Nirenberg

KSAT: Are you concerned about the recent increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in San Antonio? What do you believe is the cause and what is the appropriate response?

Nirenberg: The increase in COVID-19 cases and the accompanying stress on our hospital system are the product of reopening our economy without adequate safety precautions and the relaxed attitude by people who are understandably tired of staying at home.

Memorial Day celebrations that ignored safety precautions played a role as well. We must remain vigilant and be safe this summer, and that includes Fourth of July celebrations. The best way to show love and respect for our friends and family is to play it safe and avoid large gatherings. If we are careless, we'll have problems.

As we reopen, wearing masks, maintaining physical distancing, frequent hand washing, and other recommendations from health professionals will enable us to do it safely. The fact that your favorite hangout is open doesn’t mean COVID-19 has left town.

We can reopen safely and slow the spread of COVID-19. The stay-at-home orders prevented a huge COVID-19 peak that would have overwhelmed our hospitals and our ability to ensure each patient receives the necessary care. If the ongoing surge were to continue unabated, we still could overwhelm the system.

That’s why Judge Wolff and I, along with our health officials are urging San Antonians to be safe. Stay at home when you can. When you are in public wear a mask, maintain physical distancing, wash your hands regularly and avoid large gatherings.

District 1 Councilman Roberto C. Treviño

KSAT: Are you concerned about the recent increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in San Antonio? What do you believe is the cause and what is the appropriate response?

Treviño: Absolutely. Within the span of three months, we’ve seen the entrance of Coronavirus (COVID-19) in our city and its impact on our physical, economic and social health. We are in the midst of a precipitous spike in cases due to the reopening of the economy. The reopening has occurred in spite of the fact that we have not met the CDC guidelines for reopening. Without our state officials recognizing this fact, we will have an uphill battle to ensure we can combat this virus without exhausting our resources.

Local leaders have been working tirelessly to voice our concerns and request reformed mandates be implemented. We are held powerless by the Governor’s orders which limit the strength of local orders. Our collective governmental response needs to be less of a political agenda and more of a relief and recovery effort.

Given our inability to supersede the governor’s order, we must continue to educate the community about the virus and promote responsible behavior in our community.

District 2 Jada Andrews-Sullivan

KSAT: Are you concerned about the recent increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in San Antonio? What do you believe is the cause and what is the appropriate response?

Andrews-Sullivan: The increases appear to be the results of not emphasizing the continued use of masks, gloves and social distancing.

District 3 Rebecca Viagran

I am alarmed by the recent spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations and San Antonians on ventilators. I think there are various reasons of the cause- opening of the State, individuals not wearing face coverings, people not social distancing, and those who believe it is over. That is not the case. I do hope all those who have recovered donate plasma because it is proven to help with those in the hospitals.

District 4 Adriana Rocha Garcia

My concerns related to COVID-19 never ceased even as the executive orders ended and we entered the different phases of re-opening. Since the start of this pandemic, I’ve incessantly asked City staff and our health experts how we plan to prepare and respond to potential increases in cases and the effects of lifting executive orders. I think with the gradual loosening of restrictions, many residents also became more lax with the safety protocols and health practices like hand washing, disinfecting, and minimizing close interaction with others. Continuing to share the latest data and stressing the need to practice physical distancing, hand washing, and the use of face coverings are some of the ways we can respond.

District 5 Shirley Gonzales

Yes, I am deeply concerned about the spike in COVID-positive cases. I’m not a public health expert so I rely on the information and advice given to me through the city’s Metropolitan Health District. The City Council, the Mayor and the County Judge have taken the information and advice very seriously and our response was exemplary at the beginning. What’s happened is that state mandates have overridden our local plans and we’ve had to alter what had been a prudent response to the health crisis and focused our response on a business-focused reopening plan, as mandated by the Governor’s office.

This is a delicate balance. I’m a small business owner and I know first hand the pressures that have been placed on the city’s small business, which employ more than 90 percent of the workers. There’s no easy response, and there is no obvious course of action.

I was glad to see that face-covering will now be mandated in Bexar County and that the Governor has apparently given the green light.

District 6 Melissa Cabello Havrda

I am highly concerned with the jump in cases this week. I applaud Judge Nelson Wolff’s new Executive Order which requires businesses to implement a policy mandating the use of face coverings by employees and visitors. We must take action to ensure the health and safety of our community.

District 7 Ana Sandoval

Absolutely. The numbers should be a red alert to everyone. The moment the state relaxed its orders we began to see the public let its guard down. People stopped wearing masks and practicing social distancing. We did not do a good job of balancing the reopening process with healthy caution.

We must quickly scale up our testing, contract tracing, patient tracking, and all other COVID-19 support systems. We need a powerful education push that ensures residents know the existing health risk and how to protect oneself and others. And, we need to encourage compliance by ensuring our enforcement systems are in place. And we must make sure marginalized populations benefit as much as everyone else from this work.

District 8 Manny Peláez

The increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in San Antonio is alarming, but – as it stands – we have enough capacity with hospital beds and ventilators to be able to handle the increase. We continue to monitor it. This second wave appears to have begun around Memorial Day, but I don’t think it is fair to paint this as caused by millennials as I have seen others do.

This is a shared community struggle, and it is everyone’s responsibility – business operators included – to emphasize social distancing practices, the usage of face masks, and proper hygiene. I am glad to hear that the County Judge and Mayor have implemented a new policy requiring businesses to enforce these protocols within their establishments, and that this has the support of the Governor. I believe this will go a long way in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 and hospitalizations.

District 9 John Courage

I am extremely concerned about the rapid rise of COVID-19 infections hitting our community at this time. Our city was a model of responsible health and safety policies and procedures during the first two months of the spread of the pandemic. Out Metro Health Department and the community COVID 19 response team that came together provided the guidance and measures that kept San Antonio as one on the least infected cities of over a million people across the nation. Our Mayor and County Judge and their associated elected council and commissioners worked hand in hand with the scientific and medical community to protect the lives and health of all of our residents. It may have been tough love, but we saved lives.

It was not until the President and out Texas Governor started playing politics with the health and safety of our citizens that the most recent spread of COVID 19 started getting out of hand. I’m afraid this is going to get worse before it gets better. In San Antonio and Bexar County, over 80% of those testing for the COVID 19 are under the age of 60, while of those who have died from the virus over 75% have been over the age of 60. That age group includes our parents, grandparents and senior citizen neighbors.

I want to implore every resident of San Antonio to take to heart our orders and recommendations, that business owners, workers, shoppers and recreation users wear face coverings, practice social distancing and regularly wash hands and use hand sanitizer.

District 10 Clayton Perry

We were told by the medical experts that as the economy started to open back up, we would see an increase in COVID-19 cases. However, there is no way that keeping all of our businesses closed would have been sustainable. People’s livelihoods were destroyed by the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine. It is my hope that people see the need to stay vigilant: wear face coverings in public where social distancing is impossible, practice good hygiene with hand washing and not touching their face, and stay home if they are sick.

The pandemic is not over, but with vigilance and personal responsibility, we can minimize risk while still providing our businesses a fighting chance to pull through this pandemic.

MORE FROM KSAT:

In the video below, hear Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff respond to the spike in cases and lay out next steps.


About the Author: