Baptist Health System to require COVID-19 vaccine for San Antonio staff amid city’s infection surge

Staff can be exempt for medical or religious reasons

SAN ANTONIO – The Baptist Health System has announced that COVID-19 vaccines will be required for all San Antonio staff as the city has seen an increase in infections.

The mandate was announced “after thoughtful deliberation, and in consultation with our medical staff,” hospital leaders said in a news release.

The policy applies to physicians, medical residents, fellows, trainees, contractors, medical staff, students and volunteers in San Antonio.

“This decision is in keeping with our commitment to providing a safe environment for our patients, visitors, employees and the people of the communities we serve,” Matt Stone, the Group CEO for Baptist Health System, said in the release. “The science shows us the COVID vaccines are effective, safe and your best protection against the virus. Our goal is to do all we can to save lives and slow the spread of COVID-19 and eventually bring an end to the pandemic.”

Staff can be exempt for medical or religious reasons, according to Baptist, but they will be required to take safety precautions that may include testing.

The announcement was made after San Antonio leaders reported a surge in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations mixed with a plateau in vaccine rates.

In Bexar County, hospitals reported an increase of 44 COVID-19 patients from Tuesday to Wednesday, bringing current hospitalizations to 629. Compared to early July, about 140 people were hospitalized in the county.

About 97% of those people who are in the hospital due to complications from the virus are not vaccinated.

City officials have labeled the coronavirus risk level as “moderate” and “worsening.”

In a reversal from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, even vaccinated people are advised to wear masks indoors in parts of the U.S. where the delta variant is surging. Local officials in Texas cannot enforce masks, however, under the latest mandate from Gov. Greg Abbott.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said they plan to send Abbott a letter requesting the ability to enforce masks in schools and government buildings.

KSAT has reached out to other major hospital systems in San Antonio, including University Health, Methodist Healthcare, the Texas Vista Medical Center and Christus Health, for comment regarding their vaccine policies.

Elizabeth Allen, a spokesperson for University Health, said hospital officials have not adopted a vaccine mandate at this time.

Christus Health will focus on educating healthcare workers and the community about the vaccine, but not require it at this time.

“We agree with our partner medical societies and trade associations that the vaccination efforts of our healthcare workers are a top priority to keep our clinicians, patients, and communities safe...” a statement from Christus said in part. “While we oppose policies that would mandate our clinicians receive the COVID-19 vaccine at this time; instead, we are focusing all our efforts on educating our Associates and community members and encouraging all to receive it. At CHRISTUS, it is an expectation that patient care and our Associate’s health are our top priority.”

This story will be updated when more hospital systems respond.

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About the Author

Rebecca Salinas is an award-winning digital journalist who joined KSAT in 2019. She reports on a variety of topics for KSAT 12 News.

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