Health care workers optimistic as COVID-19 units start to dwindle amid declining cases in Bexar County

Health care professionals say they’re optimistic the effects of the pandemic will improve by the summer as the number of infections drops in our area, leading to the closure of some COVID-19 units at some San Antonio hospitals.

SAN ANTONIO – Health care professionals say they’re optimistic the effects of the pandemic will improve by the summer as the number of infections drops in our area, leading to the closure of some COVID-19 units at some San Antonio hospitals.

Dr. Saleh Jaafar, with Medcare Associates, was deep in the trenches, helping his patients fight for their lives during this time last year.

“A couple months ago, I was following 25 to 30 patients almost daily with COVID-19 on the phone, treating them daily and changing the treatment,” Jaafar said. “We’re in much better shape. We haven’t even lost a patient in the past few weeks, which is beautiful compared to three or four months ago.”

Jaafar says he now treats about two COVID-19 patients a week over the phone.

San Antonio hospitals are starting to close down their COVID-19 units as cases wind down.

SA COVID-19 Briefing, April 19: More than 1 million vaccines administered in Bexar County, mayor says

University Hospital health care personnel were treating more than 150 patients for COVID-19 at one point in 2020. Now, they’re down to about 20 to 30, according to Dr. Bryan Alsip, chief medical officer.

Alsip said the hospital keeps an eye on cases in other parts of the country and is ready to take on any surges if needed.

“We know it can happen again. But I think what we feel very fortunate is we here at University Health -- and I think most of the major hospitals feel that we could respond again as we did before, we’ve done that twice now for two very large surges -- we’ve had to expand our capacity and ramp up as needed. So I think all of us feel very prepared for that if necessary,” he said.

Alsip says hospital staff members are encouraged to get some rest after the cumbersome year.

“But we also know that there’s a lot of work to be done. And we’re very busy because many patients delayed care and, unfortunately, could not come in for a surgical procedure or other things that needed to be taken care of. And so I think that’s still keeping all the hospitals very busy with non-COVID patients,” he said.

Lori Townsend, the chief nursing officer at the Methodist Hospital campus, says the same trend is seen in her health care facility. The number of COVID-19 patients went from nearly 200 to about 20 a day. The increase in patients is due to people who waited to be treated for health issues or others who had a delayed diagnosis.

Medical staff members certainly feel more confident if another surge occurs, having gone through more than one during 2020.

“I think that is one thing that has really made it easier for caregivers ... to know, ‘I’m not going to die of this. I know that if I take all these precautions, and do these things, that I’ll be safe, and I’m not going to take it home to my family,’” Townsend said. “And so it’s a lot different now than it was in the beginning when there were so many unknowns and so much fear about what will happen.”

Townsend says the future is bright as long as patients continue to get vaccinated and following COVID-19 protocols.

Baptist Health System is also reporting a decrease in infections, allowing health care workers to reflect on the busy year.

Statement from Baptist Health System:

“As COVID-19 cases in San Antonio continue to decrease, Baptist Health System is transitioning its COVID units back to normal operations. Baptist Health System erected one of the city’s first COVID units in early February 2020 to care for evacuees from the Princess Cruise line who arrived in San Antonio from Wuhan, China. As COVID cases rose, the system created multiple COVID units at its hospitals in San Antonio and New Braunfels to safely care for patients. As of today, the system is operating fewer of those units. Although numbers are trending in the right direction, we continue to closely monitor our operations and adapt protocols to do what is best for patient care. As stewards of community healthcare, Baptist Health System urges the public to wear protective face coverings when in public and to practice social distancing and proper hand hygiene to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The community’s health and safety are our priority.”

About the Authors:

Patty Santos joined the KSAT 12 News team in July 2017. She has a proven track record of reporting on hard-hitting news that affects the community.