SAN ANTONIO (KTSA News) – “It’s about time.” That’s what Mayor Ron Nirenberg said Thursday afternoon when asked for his response to the governor’s order requiring face coverings in public. It applies to counties in Texas that have more than 20 cases of COVID-19, which includes Bexar County.
Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff have pleaded with the governor to mandate masks as a means of preventing the spread of COVID-19. Until Thursday, Gov. Greg Abbott remained adamant about making it an issue of personal responsibility. While strongly urging people to wear face coverings when social distancing is not possible, Abbott had previously refused to issue an order requiring masks.
“There is going to be a constant effort to look behind us on the things that we could have done as a state and as a nation,” said Nirenberg. “We’ve got to stay focused on what we need to do going forward, so we’ll count this one as a good step that the governor has taken.”
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, a former business owner, was pleased that the governor finally issued the mask requirement. Local commercial busineses are required to mandate face coverings for employees and customers.
“That’s going to help take a lot of pressure off of businesses today where they’re not the last line of enforcement,” said Wolff.
Hospital administrators and the interim director of San Antonio Metro Health joined Nirenberg and Wolff at the COVID-19 briefing Thursday.
They begged area residents to avoid social gatherings and take extra precautions during this long holiday weekend in an effort to avoid the spike of coronavirus cases that occurred after the Memorial Day Weekend.
“Let’s call this Independence Day, a day of independence against this disease, and it cannot be done by legislation. It has to be done at an individual level,” said Dr. Ian Thompson, CEO at Christus Santa Rosa Medical Center. “If you love your country, you will wear a mask.”
Matt Stone, CEO of Baptist Health System said if coronavirus hospitalizations continue at this rate, the number could increase to 3,200 .
“And if those ICU percentages hold true, we’re going to need approximately 1,000 ICU beds,” said Stone.
And to those who compare COVID-19 to the flu, here’s what Methodist Healthcare System CEO Allen Harrison said at the briefing.
“Some people may tell you that it’s just like the flu, except it’s 50 times more likely to kill you than the flu is,” said Harrison.
Dr. Colleen Bridger, interim director of San Antonio Metro Health told a tragic story about a family that got together to celebrate several birthdays. Those parties had been postponed because of the pandemic, so about 25 families members gathered. It was raining, so they gathered in two rooms in the front of the house for a potluck dinner. They hugged and kissed and shared desserts.
A woman was the first to get sick with COVID-19. She and her son ended up in the hospital, and four others also tested positive for the virus. The woman died. Her son and the others survived.
“Please don’t gather with people you don’t live with this Independence Day. Your family is depending on you,” said Bridger.
Health officials are urging area residents to treat everyone as if they have the virus.
“There’s a lot of discussion in the press that it’s your right to not wear a mask. If it’s your right, then take responsibility for that right and protect yourself and your family,” said George Hernandez, President and CEO of University Hospital.
The latest numbers show 374 additional COVID-19 cases on Thursday and four more deaths. Nirenberg said the availability of hospital beds is at 13 percent, and that’s with elective surgeries postponed.