SAN ANTONIO – Editor’s note: This story is a look back at some of the biggest developments of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. See a full timeline here.
One year ago, the coronavirus pandemic had already gripped the city with at least 40 deaths and about 1,000 infections. As the deaths rose and the economy stumbled, policymakers and residents were hit with another crisis: inequality.
The spread and death toll of COVID-19 was exasperated by longstanding socioeconomic issues in San Antonio, the poorest large city in the United States.
From the snaking lines of cars at the San Antonio Food Bank’s mega distribution event at Trader’s Village to the digital divide that was exposed through virtual schooling, inequality was thrust into the forefront of managing and recovering from the pandemic.
Fast forward to today, those same inequities are illustrated by how COVID-19 fatalities have ripped through particular communities in various parts of Bexar County, according to Rogelio Saenz, a demography professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio’s College for Health, Community and Policy.
“Communities of color have suffered a lot more because of inequalities they’ve experienced,” Saenz said, adding that about 38% of Latinos between the ages of 19 and 64 in Texas do not have health insurance.
An analysis by KSAT of COVID-19 deaths by ZIP code shows fatalities predominantly impacted communities with high poverty rates, larger household sizes, low health insurance rates and lower median incomes.
In fact, of the 11 Bexar County ZIP codes with the highest COVID-19 death rates, seven have a family poverty rate of 15% or more, according to KSAT’s analysis.
You can see how many lives were lost due to COVID-19 by each Bexar County ZIP code in the map below. The map also shows each community’s average household size, median household income and percentage of families below the poverty level.
The virus data was obtained by KSAT through the City of San Antonio’s Metropolitan Health Department and includes information from the start of the pandemic through March 2021. Demographics by ZIP code were compiled by using the U.S. Census’ American Community Survey 5-year estimates from 2019.
While San Antonio is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country with more than 1.4 million residents, it is known for being one of the most economically segregated cities in the U.S.
This city has the highest poverty rate in the country out of the 25 largest metro areas in the United States, according to the 2018 American Community Survey. Detroit was second on the list.
Saenz said while COVID-19 data is a “moving picture,” it shows how communities are “disproportionately impacted” since the first virus death was reported on March 22, 2020.
“The same kind of inequalities that generated the inequalities in the pandemic and so forth, infections, as well as outbreaks, and so forth continue to plague these communities,” he said.
Which ZIP codes were affected the most?
A KSAT Explains special in July highlighted why the pandemic impacted some parts of the city more than others.
It found that 18.6% of San Antonians live below the poverty line compared to 15.5% in Texas. This city’s median household income is $50,980, according to the 2018 American Community Survey.
Of the 11 Bexar County ZIP codes with the highest COVID-19 death rates, eight have a family poverty rate of 15% or more.
Those communities land in the areas of downtown, the near North Side, Windcrest, South Side, Southwest Side, East Side and inner West Side.
According to data compiled by SA2020 from 2017, these city council districts have the most uninsured people:
- District 5 (West Side) had an uninsured rate of 25%.
- District 1 (North Side, mostly within Loop 410) had an uninsured rate of nearly 22%.
- District 3 (Southeast Side) had an uninsured rate of nearly 21%.
Saenz said at the beginning of the pandemic, infection rates were higher in communities on the North Side because those residents were most likely traveling and being tested first.
As the virus raged, he said, it became “devastating” for people who could not afford to stay isolated or easily obtain a test or treatment.
KSAT EXPLAINS, Episode 3: The Uneven Impact of COVID-19
Saenz said those factors include crowding in homes, having no health insurance, living in multi-unit housing and not being able to work from home.
“That provides another route for a quick spread of the virus,” he said.
What can the city learn from the first 12 months of the pandemic?
A year after the first COVID-19 death was reported in San Antonio, city leaders said cases continued to level off for March 2021, with the test positivity rate staying below the target benchmark of 5%.
The COVID-19 monthly epidemiological report released by Metro Health for March 2021 said 209,470 people in San Antonio tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began. A total of 3,276 people died from the virus in March 2020-March 2021.
The report adds that the Hispanic population makes up the largest proportion — 75% — of cases where race/ethnicity data is available. Data on race/or ethnicity is only available for about 61% of cases.
“This pattern is observed across every age-group, and may suggest that the pandemic has disproportionately affected the Hispanic population,” the report states.
Metro Health also points out that by the end of March 2021, ZIP codes in the northern part Bexar County had generally lower COVID-19 cases but higher vaccination rates. On the other hand, communities southwest of downtown had higher virus cases but lower vaccination rates.
Sanez said a short-term solution is getting vaccines where they’re needed the most: in underserved communities.
“I think the easier we can make it to get vaccinated, that helps us all because we’re all in this together,” he said.
The greater effort will be addressing issues of transportation, the digital divide and health care, he said.
“I think that as we go forward in terms of what’s going to happen here, for example, when we eventually come out of the pandemic ... I think that there’s going to have to be greater degrees of attention to issues that have to do with inequality in general, but particularly with respect to lack of access to healthcare,” he said.