New COVID-19 cases plummet, but deaths remain high

By Brian Chasnoff, Staff writer

For the first time this year, new COVID-19 cases in San Antonio have fallen to fewer than 1,000.

Officials reported 850 new cases on Wednesday — a precipitous decline from the 2,395 cases recorded on Tuesday. Cases began spiking in November and have risen to record highs in recent days, a surge still apparent in the region’s seven-day average of 1,966 cases.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg warned at the daily briefing that it was far too early to consider the sudden decline in cases a definite trend.

“There may be some labs that didn’t report today,” Nirenberg said. “The more important number is the seven-day rolling average.”

Rita Espinoza, chief of epidemiology for the city’s Metropolitan Health District, echoed the mayor’s note of caution.

“It is just one point, so we really can’t say it’s a trend,” she said.

The number of patients hospitalized also fell, albeit more modestly, from 1,507 to 1,466. Of those, 452 were in intensive care and 247 were on ventilators.

Overall, there were 174 new admissions to hospitals — a figure that Nirenberg called troubling and “very high.”

The relentless pandemic continued to exact a grim toll in Bexar County, killing 18 more residents over the last two weeks.

The victims included a man in his 40s; a man in his 50s; a woman in her 70s; and a man in his 80s.

Also reported dead: a Hispanic man in his 80s; a Hispanic woman in her 70s; two Hispanic men in their 50s; a white woman in her 80s; two Hispanic women in their 60s; two white men in their 80s; a white woman in her 90s; a Hispanic woman in her 90s; and a white man in his 90s.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff warned that the vast majority of San Antonians — about 92 percent — who knew where they were infected by the deadly coronavirus said they came into contact with an infected person in their home.

“So it’s the larger gatherings where people get together and let their guard down,” Wolff said.

Wolff, who received his second dose of vaccine on Wednesday, said University Health will soon expand its capacity to administer vaccines, which remain scarce across the country.

By Feb. 8, the public hospital system will have the capacity to administer 5,000 doses a day at the Wonderland of the Americas mall near Loop 410 and Interstate 10 on the North Side.

University Health is currently administering about 1,500 doses a day there.

“That’s a significant increase,” Wolff said. “But of course we need the vaccine to do it.”

Providers typically learn the size of their weekly shipments one day before receiving them, Wolff said.

“Here we are Wednesday night, and we don’t know what we’re going to get next week,” he said. “We will be ready February 8 to do 5,000 every day — if we get it.”

On the day of President Joe Biden’s inauguration, Nirenberg said he was hopeful that the change in administration would presage the manufacturing of more vaccine, as well as direct allocations to local communities that bypass the state.

“We’re not alone. Every city in the country wants more vaccine,” Nirenberg said.

The mayor added, “I would just say that it is refreshing that at this point, we do have at least the words that are being said is that getting this pandemic under control is going to be this administration’s number one priority. We have not heard that before, and so hopefully they’ll put their money where their mouth is.”

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