Hoping to blunt a frightening surge in coronavirus cases, local officials imposed an overnight curfew starting tonight to discourage people from socializing outside their households during the holiday weekend.
The curfew is in effect from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. until Monday, and it applies to “all social activities,” defined as “congregating in any area outside of an individual’s household.”
The restriction, ordered by Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, does not apply to people going to work during those hours or patronizing businesses operating within pandemic safety guidelines.
The order does impose new restrictions on restaurants, however. They must stop all sit-down food service by 10 p.m. during the four-day curfew, including patios and other outdoor service areas.
The curfew does not apply to curbside and drive-thru service.
Restaurants “are strongly encouraged and urged to offer only curbside or takeout services until the curfew expires on Monday,” the order states.
The goal of the curfew is to minimize “unregulated” social gatherings where safe practices such as physical distancing and wearing masks may not be observed.
Curfew violations are punishable by fines up to $1,000.
“It’s a difficult time. It’s a difficult thing to do, but we’ve got to get through this holiday,” Wolff said Wednesday during the daily coronavirus briefing. “If we don’t get through this holiday, we’re in for a very difficult time in San Antonio.”
The announcement came as officials reported 1,032 new coronavirus cases and six additional deaths during the past 14 days.
The seven-day rolling average of new cases jumped to 764, up from 476 at the start of the week. A month ago, the average was below 200.
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Since the pandemic arrived in March, 76,750 San Antonians have been infected with the virus and 1,343 have died from it. Of the total number of cases, about 7,000 were identified in the past 10 days alone. The number of COVID-19 patients in local hospitals has more than doubled in the last month.
Officials worry that with people traveling into the city and college students coming home from other parts of the country to celebrate Thanksgiving, the spread of the virus could accelerate further.
“It hurts us to have to go through all of these measures, but let’s focus together on what we can do to save our lives here in this community, keep each other healthy, and by next year we’ll be able to enjoy that holiday with our loved ones still here,” Nirenberg said.
The mayor alluded to the crisis in El Paso, where a spike in COVID-19 cases has overwhelmed hospitals. Temporary morgues have been rushed to the border city after the medical examiner’s office ran out of storage space for corpses. El Paso has sent coronavirus patients to San Antonio and other cities to ease the burden on its hospital system.
El Paso recently imposed a curfew similar to the one Nirenberg and Wolff announced for San Antonio. Both measures were crafted to avoid running afoul of orders by Gov. Greg Abbott that have limited the restrictions local governments can impose on their own.
“We’re using a model that the governor has encouraged, and we’re doing it in a time when I think we can get in front of getting overwhelmed in our hospitals,” Nirenberg said.
Wolff expressed concern that holiday socializing could intensify the spread of the virus.
“We know that families want to get together, and we know that’s very, very dangerous,” he said. “Young people are coming home from college. … They’re going to be coming back into the community, socializing, going to their families — that’s a danger point.”
Wolff noted that in recent days, San Antonio International Airport has seen its highest passenger volume in months, despite an advisory from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discouraging Thanksgiving travel.
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The number of new coronavirus cases reported Wednesday was lower than the 1,127 cases reported Tuesday — which was the most since July. But officials warned the spread of COVID-19 is likely to get worse if people don’t adhere to safe practices.
A continuation of the current surge is likely to overwhelm the city’s hospitals, said Rita Espinoza, chief of epidemiology for the Metropolitan Health District.
“We’re trying to prevent that perfect storm from happening where people are congregating and they’re getting into close proximity,” she said. “We’re trying to really prevent that so that we won’t be taxing our hospitals and taxing all of our systems, so we can be a little bit more proactive versus having to be reactive as these cases continue rising.”
The city’s hospitals have been seeing rising numbers of COVID-19 patients. Nearly 14 percent of all patients have the disease, city data shows.
Local hospitals were treating 543 coronavirus patients Wednesday, up from 513 Tuesday as a result of 62 new admissions. By contrast, 227 people were hospitalized with the virus on Nov. 1.
Of those in hospitals Wednesday, 175 were in intensive care, a slight uptick from 173 Tuesday, and 88 patients were on ventilators to help them breathe, up from 86 Tuesday.
Andres Picon is a staff writer covering San Antonio education. To read more from Andres, become a subscriber. email@example.com | Twitter: @andpicon