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5 charts explain COVID-19 surge in San Antonio

Hospital rates starting to decline, but huge Fourth of July surge has officials concerned

FILE - In this July 6, 2020, file photo, a ventilator helps a COVID-19 patient breath inside the Coronavirus Unit in a Houston hospital. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)
FILE - In this July 6, 2020, file photo, a ventilator helps a COVID-19 patient breath inside the Coronavirus Unit in a Houston hospital. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

SAN ANTONIO – A spike in cases over the weekend — which officials believe may be linked to gatherings over Fourth of July — threatens to upend the progress made last week on San Antonio’s hospitalization rates.

As of Monday, Bexar County surpassed 31,000 COVID-19 cases, roughly two-thirds of which are still active.

While the day-to-day COVID-19 numbers change, here are five 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.

The numbers show the surge picking up in the summer. In June, Bexar County added more than 9,000 new cases.

Through the first 20 days of July, Bexar County has seen more than 19,251 new cases, 4,810 of which were reported as backlogged cases last Thursday.

The most recent daily record was set on Sunday, when Bexar County reported 2,202 new cases.

Medical experts do not just look the daily intake of cases, they also consider the 7-day average of new cases. Partially because of the backlog in cases, San Antonio has averaged more than 1,000 cases per day since Thursday. As of Monday, the average stood at 1,586 new cases per day.

2. Positivity rate

Positivity rate of COVID-19 tests in San Antonio
Positivity rate of COVID-19 tests in San Antonio (KSAT)

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. That would account for any increase in testing.

Generally, experts look at 7-day averages of positivity rates 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%. The rate peaked between July 5-July 11 at 24.2%. In other words, nearly one out of every four tests conducted in Bexar County came back positive that week.

During the previous week, between July 12-July 18, the positivity rate came in at 22.9%.

Statewide, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has stated that a seven-day average of a positivity rate over 10% is a “warning flag.” As of July 18, the positivity rate in Texas is roughly 15%.

3. Death toll rising faster than before

Since the latest surge began in late May and early June, deaths have begun piling up.

From March through May, a total of 74 COVID-19 deaths were recorded. Since then, 183 deaths have been reported.

More than 100 of those victims are older than 65, but eight people younger than 40 have also died of the virus.

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4. Younger people make up majority of infections

Bexar County COVID-19 cases broken down by age.
Bexar County COVID-19 cases broken down by age. (KSAT)

Younger residents continue to drive the spread of the virus, according to the numbers.

In Bexar County, people younger than 40 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 in June. “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.

The statistic led Abbott to shut down bars in June.

“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.

5. Hospitalizations

COVID-19 hospitalizations in Bexar County.
COVID-19 hospitalizations in Bexar County. (KSAT)

Hospitalizations are one of the most important metrics being followed by experts across the state of Texas.

After a week of declining COVID-19 hospitalizations in San Antonio, another increase in numbers was reported on Sunday.

As of Monday, nearly 1,200 COVID-19 patients are in Bexar County hospitals. In the intensive care unit, 430 COVID-19 patients are battling the virus there, and 294 of them are on ventilators.

Only 11% of hospital beds are available, while 49% of ventilators are available.

A surge in symptomatic patients can quickly overrun the health care system, UT Health San Antonio President Dr. William Henrich has previously warned.

In the event of an overflow, patients may be sent to a makeshift hospital at the Freeman Coliseum.

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