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Delta Variant Causing 'Severe Stress' on Bexar County's Hospital System As Case Rate And Severity For Children Rises

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg
Joey Palacios
Texas Public Radio
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg

The risk level for COVID-19 in Bexar County is now “severe” after weeks of continued increases in daily cases, hospitalizations and the positivity rate with the spread of the delta variant.

The delta variant appears to be having a greater impact on children who are coming down with COVID-19 cases so severe they require hospitalization — with at least one 4-year-old on a ventilator at the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio.

City and county leaders gathered for another COVID-19 update on Wednesday for the fourth week in a row. Daily cases had reached a seven-day average of 1,146 this week with the positivity rate growing to nearly 20%. There are 920 COVID-positive patients in hospitals across Bexar County.

“We are 100% in a rebound of COVID cases,” said San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg. “It's frustrating, I understand that we join you in that. It's frustrating that we're back in this situation. But there is a major difference compared to previous surges. This time we have the tools to fight back and vaccinations are our best defense for stopping the spread of COVID.”

Nirenberg stressed the availability of vaccines as nearly 40% of Bexar County remains unvaccinated. In the hospitals, 88% of COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated. That percentage has dropped from 95%, last week meaning a greater number of vaccinated persons have been admitted with COVID-19.

Among the overall hospitalizations include patients who are children. At the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio, approximately 10% of their patients are being treated for COVID-19 including cases severe enough requiring ICU and ventilators.

“We have four patients in the ICU today on ventilators with COVID, one being 4years of age,” said Charles Hankins Sr. Vice President of Pediatrics at CHRISTUS Health. “So this is different. This delta area is different. Before, what we were talking about is primarily adult disease, mild in children. We're seeing more and more children being impacted seriously with this.”

Hakins noted that the attention needed for COVID-19 patients was taking away staffing resources for other procedures and surgeries that are considered elective.

“We had to delay a congenital heart surgery case two days ago because of the nursing staffing being dedicated to these children with the virus,” he said. “That's not elective surgery. That could be life saving surgery at some point. But we had to delay it because of resources.”

Those in the hospital are also skewing younger. But that age level is dropping. At University Hospital, the average age of COVID-19 patients dropped from 54 years old to 48 years old, according to Wolff.

“In the last pandemic wave, the oldest person that we had in the hospital with covid was 18 years old in the university hospital. We have one in the hospital right now that's 11 months old,” he said.

Layers of frustration could be felt from Nirenberg and Wolff over Gov. Greg Abbott’s adamant withholding of enforcement measures. Cities, counties and school districts are not allowed to issue mask mandates or COVID-19 vaccines under his executive orders.

“I think his order provides that if a public official attempts to do that, he can be fined and removed from office,” Wolff said. “Anybody needs to be removed from office as the governor.”

Last week, Nirenberg and Wolff requested additional nursing support from Abbott, a request that was effectively denied via a letter from the Texas Division of Emergency Management which said federal resources and funding from the American Recovery Plan Act were sufficient to provide support.

“The way I would characterize the governor's response is ‘You're on your own’,” Nirenberg said.

Eric Epley is the CEO of the Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council, which oversees hospital status and capacity in Bexar County. He said a system of travelling nurse agencies is used by the area's hospital systems.

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Joey Palacios can be reached atJoey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules