By Scott Huddleston, Staff writer
Local leaders said they were moving forward cautiously under Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan to reopen hair and nail salons this week, as officials reported four additional deaths Tuesday related to COVID-19.
The groundwork laid in recent weeks by San Antonio-Bexar County health and economic transition teams will help protect people and restore consumer confidence, so the community can “get this economy back on its feet again” and make San Antonio a stronger city, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said at the daily city-county COVID-19 briefing.
“It really puts a lot of pressure on all of us to abide by best practices, and that’s what the economic transition team has outlined — not just minimum standards, but best practices,” Nirenberg said of the governor’s plan to allow hair and nail salons to open Friday, with gyms and office buildings allowed to reopen May 18. The 6-foot social distancing standard, no large gatherings and other rules remain in place.
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The mayor noted that the lag time between changes and any impact they have on limiting the spread of the potentially deadly disease is typically two to three weeks.
“So steps taken in succession without the benefit of data to reinforce the decision is really a risk that we’re taking without a whole lot of awareness,” Nirenberg said. “And so that’s why it’s so important that people take these guidance recommendations…to heart. Because we don’t want to have to go through this again.”
The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Bexar County continues to creep upward midway through the seventh week of local stay-at-home orders that officials have credited with helping contain the disease.
So far, 1,677 people in the San Antonio area have now tested positive, up from 1,652 reported Monday.
For the first time in six days, new deaths were reported, though three had occurred prior to April 26 but were just added to the official count Tuesday, pushing the total to 52. Two were Hispanic women in their 70s and one was a Hispanic man in his 60s. The fourth death, which occurred Monday, involved an African American man identified as Bexar County Jail inmate Clifford Childs, 66.
Other numbers also increased Tuesday. There were 61 people with COVID-19 in the hospital, up from 57 on Monday. Of those, 35 were in intensive care and 25 were using ventilators for breathing, the mayor said.
As the city embarks on a campaign to recharge the local economy in compliance with the governor’s orders, the economic transition team, in collaboration with the health team, has provided a “playbook” that expands on the governor’s recommendations for reopened businesses; a marketing and public relations plan to restore consumer and visitor engagement; and health and safety protocols listed at greatersafersa.com.
Team co-chairs Kevin Voelkel, president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Texas, and Julissa Carielo, president of Tejas Premier Building Contractor, Inc., said their tasks focused on ways businesses can open safely once Abbott gives the green light.
“So we hoped that the guidance we provided today, when it’s time to open, provides the best set of guidelines and recommendations on top of the state’s, to be able to open safely,” said Voelkel, who joined Carielo at the briefing, after they’d given a presentation to the City Council and county commissioners earlier Tuesday.
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Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said he’s nervous about the salons, though he noted that he and his wife, Tracy, were anxious to have their hair done for the first time in weeks.
“I think there’s going to have to be a lot of extra precautions” in the next wave of re-openings, following malls, restaurants and theaters last week, Wolff said. “I can’t think of a place that’s more important to wear a mask. Because you’re going to be so close to each other.”
He also was leery about gyms and fitness centers opening later this month, even with the governor’s recommendations for patrons to wear gloves and maintain a physical distance of 6 feet from others.
“It’s difficult in a gym, because you’re all touching the same thing when you go in,” Wolff said.
Nirenberg encouraged businesses to “sign on to the pledge and make sure the public knows that you’re going to be adhering to these guidelines that are so important for the strong business community that we want to get back to.”
“We don’t want to have to repeat the pain that we’ve been through with closures,” the mayor said.
Officials continue to ask Bexar County residents to wear a facial covering over nose and mouth, to help contain the spread of the potentially deadly disease, in places where maintaining a distance of 6 feet from others is difficult.
Noting that testing for COVID-19 “continues aggressively in this community,” Nirenberg said residents should call 311 if they think they need to get tested.
Scott Huddleston covers Bexar County government and the Alamo for the San Antonio Express-News. To read more from Scott, become a subscriber. firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: @shuddlestonSA