SAN ANTONIO – The surge of COVID-19 cases in San Antonio has shown no signs of letting up in June.
As of Monday, Bexar County recorded 10,797 COVID-19 cases, the majority of which are still active. The swell in cases has the potential to overwhelm San Antonio’s health care infrastructure and lead to unnecessary deaths, experts say.
Local officials have sounded the alarms, sending a push alert to Bexar County residents on Saturday and pleading with residents to stay home.
While the day-to-day COVID-19 numbers change, here are six factors San Antonio health experts are looking at when assessing the pandemic’s impact and threat to the city. The latest data is available on San Antonio’s website.
1. Daily new cases
One of the first warning signs to look at is the number of new COVID-19 cases confirmed each day in San Antonio.
In June, San Antonio set new daily high case numbers five times, starting on June 13 when 230 COVID-19 cases were confirmed. The most recent record was set on Saturday, when Bexar County reported 795 new cases.
Medical experts do not just take the daily intake into account, they also consider the 14-day average of new cases. On June 9, the average came out to 178.7 new cases a day. By June 22, the average grew to 457.4 new cases a day.
There is a one week lag in data to allow for complete capture of the information, according to the city.
2. Positivity rate
The sheer number of new cases does not fully capture the spread of COVID-19. Another factor experts and policymakers look to is the testing positivity rate, or the percentage of tests that come back positive.
Generally, experts look at 7-day averages to help better determine the trend and smooth out peaks and valleys in the data.
Between May 24-May 30, the positivity rate in Bexar County was at 3.6%. That number has risen each week, hitting 20.1% between June 21-June 27.
Statewide, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has stated that a seven-day average of a positivity rate over 10% is a “warning flag.” The positivity rate passed that threshold last week, leading Abbott to shut down bars and tubing companies.
3. Active cases surpass recoveries
On May 11, San Antonio notched an encouraging milestone — recoveries had surpassed the active number of COVID-19 cases. The achievement was a sign that the spread of COVID-19 was severely slowed down.
Recoveries remained greater than active cases until June 16, when a then-daily high of 436 cases was reported.
That means the spread of the virus is faster than patients are able to recover from COVID-19.
4. Younger people make up majority of infections
In general, people younger than 30 have made up a significant portion of infections during the COVID-19 surge, catching Abbott’s ire.
“People who tested positive since the beginning of June were under the age of 30. It could be a Memorial Day celebration. It could be a bar-type setting,” Abbott previously said.
In Bexar County, people younger than 30 make up more than a third of all COVID-19 cases.
“Younger folks, you’re not immune to this,” Nirenberg said during a COVID-19 briefing earlier this month. “The number of people ending up in the hospital is rising, and they’re getting younger.”
While younger people are less likely to die of COVID-19, their infection can still have ripple effect, medical experts warned. They can unknowingly spread COVID-19 to more vulnerable populations, like elderly or people with compromised immune systems.
“If I could go back and redo anything, it probably would have been to slow down the opening of bars, now seeing in the aftermath of how quickly the coronavirus spread in the bar setting,” Abbott said during an evening interview with KVIA in El Paso.
Hospitalizations are one of the most important metrics being followed by experts across the state of Texas.
In Houston, home to the largest hospital district in the world, some experts are worried that the Bayou City is on the verge of a health care crisis.
While capacity is faring better in San Antonio, the number of hospitalizations continue to skyrocket. As of Monday, 881 people are currently hospitalized, 274 are in the ICU, and 154 are on ventilators in Bexar County.
Although roughly a quarter of staffed hospital beds are available, doctors told KSAT on Monday that the availability is partially because there are patients waiting in emergency rooms for hospital beds. Doctors are also concerned about shortages of anti-viral medication and convalescent plasma.
A surge in symptomatic patients can quickly overrun the health care system, UT Health San Antonio President Dr. William Henrich has previously warned.
6. Alarming projections
As cases continue to surge, the projection models that San Antonio policymakers and experts are following become more concerning.
One model is put together by Juan B. Gutiérrez, the chair of mathematics at the University of Texas at San Antonio, who was tapped by the city to help develop models on which to base policy.
His latest projection shows San Antonio may hit 49,000 cumulative COVID-19 cases in the next four weeks.
“Hoping reversal of trend by 6/30 thanks to @Judge_Wolff’s orders to wear masks,” Gutiérrez said in a recent tweet.
Gutiérrez was referring to Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff’s emergency order, which required customers and employees to wear face masks indoors at any place of business. The effects of that order won’t be measured until the end of the month due to the lag in data.
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