San Antonio officials reported a lower positivity rate and few new coronavirus cases Monday, but testing was significantly disrupted last week as residents contended with severe winter weather and widespread power and water outages.
Officials reported 230 new cases, a number that is likely artificially low, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said at the daily coronavirus briefing. The positivity rate, or the portion of tests that come back positive for the virus, also fell to 7.5 percent, down 2.2 percentage points over the past two weeks.
The measure of transmission is impacted by the number of people who get tested. During an average week, 60,000 to 70,000 Bexar County residents are tested for the virus. Last week, that number plummeted to 10,000, said Anita Kurian, who leads the communicable disease division at the Metropolitan Health District.
COVID-19 testing was temporarily closed at two city sites, Cuellar and Ramirez community centers, and at several asymptomatic testing sites run by the nonprofit Community Labs. Many residents also avoided driving on icy roads, a factor that likely further reduced the number of people who were tested.
“The inclement weather did affect the testing. Testing was very limited last week,” Kurian said. “We do expect this limited testing to affect having a clear picture of the true burden of the disease on our community last week.”
It is also possible that additional infections were seeded during the weather crisis, Kurian said. A significant number of residents sheltered at the houses of friends and family members or checked themselves into hotels in order to access water or power.
“There’s always a risk of cases going up when people tend to congregate, so we’ll watch this pretty closely,” she said.
Sal Webber, president of Community Labs, said its testing sites had already seen an uptick in positive cases over the weekend.
“We anticipate we’ll see more of this after last week’s winter storm forced people indoors, sharing confined spaces,” he said in a statement. “Community Labs urges people to take advantage of our free testing so we can quickly identify COVID-19-positive people and get them to quarantine.”
Additionally, many vaccine appointments were rescheduled due to the weather and outages, and vaccine distribution continues to be affected in the aftermath of the crisis.
On Monday, city officials announced that the weather had delayed the shipment of vaccines intended for Tuesday’s appointments at the Alamodome. All Tuesday appointments will be rescheduled for Thursday, as long as the allocated doses arrive on time, officials said.
About 6,300 vaccine appointments originally scheduled at the Alamodome from Feb. 16 to 18 had to be rescheduled due to the weather, Kurian said. Those delayed shots, as well as other appointments rescheduled for last week due to shipping delays from the state, should have been all administered by the end of the day Monday, she added.
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said the vaccine site run by University Health at Wonderland of the Americas mall was aiming to catch up on its backlog of appointments by the end of the week.
Federal guidelines say the second doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines can be administered up to 42 days after the first shot.
Although San Antonio’s coronavirus data may have been skewed by last week’s crisis, local hospitalizations for COVID continue to improve from the city’s winter surge. Hospitals were treating 608 coronavirus patients Monday, about 100 fewer patients than a week ago and around 300 fewer than two weeks ago.
Of those hospitalized, 223 were critically ill and 100 were breathing with the support of a ventilator. Fifty-nine had been admitted in the past day.
The infection rate has declined to 39.7 cases per 100,000 residents, a decrease from 61.3 on Feb. 8. Officials said cases have declined over the past two weeks. Wolff noted that San Antonio is nearing a 5 percent positivity rate, which health officials set as a benchmark for manageable transmission.
“It looks like if everybody holds together here, we’ll get this thing finally under control,” he said.
There have been 193,691 cumulative coronavirus infections in Bexar County since the pandemic began. No new deaths from COVID-19 were reported Monday, leaving the local death toll at 2,492.