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Nirenberg, Wolff Agree With Relaxing Some COVID-19 Restrictions In Governor Abbott's Reopening Plan

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Joey Palacios
/
Texas Public Radio
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff prepare for their nightly briefing to the public on COVID-19 as they are joined by Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said they agree with parts of Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan to reopen  certain businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Beginning Friday, restaurants, movie theaters and retail stores in Texas can allow people back into their establishments at limited capacity. The easing of restrictions comes as Texas continues to see a rise in COVID-19 cases. While the state is relaxing its orders, both the city and the county’s own stay-at-home orders are set to expire Thursday as well, but reauthorizations are expected.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said he believes Texas’ cities have been successful in limiting the spread of the virus through social distancing.   

“The world did not suddenly change with respect to this infection today. Some orders did change from the state but what is working is social distancing, wearing masks, making sure that we’re limiting public gatherings,” Nirenberg said. “The things that we’ve been doing as a community here locally and across this state in all the major metros have been working to help us contain this disease, that work will continue.”

Nirenberg added he hopes the loosening of some of the state’s restrictions does not cause a regression.

Wolff said he felt the governor made the right call in opening up restaurants, retail, malls and movie theaters with the limits on occupancy. But not having at least some requirements for people to observe while in those public places was an issue for the county judge.

“The worst decision he made was to not require the mandatory use of face masks. To me that is the underpinning of everything we do,” Wolff said while highlighting the use of other measures like hand washing and limited gatherings.  

The City of San Antonio began closing businesses like bars and bowling alleys and limiting restaurants to curbside, delivery and drive-thru service on March 18 and later expanded the orders urging residents to stay at home on March 23. That subsequent order also closed non-essential businesses like retail.

Texas did not enact its own stay at home orders until the end of March after each of Texas major cities had put in place policies of their own.

San Antonio and Bexar County’s stay-at-home orders are set to expire on Thursday. However, the Bexar County Commissioner’s Court and San Antonio City Council are expected to extend them.

“We will be working on an order that will stay in compliance with what the governor is doing,” Wolff said.

The 11-member city council and five-member commissioners court have a joint meeting scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.

Abbott’s eased restrictions would allow some non-essentials businesses to reopen and allow patrons inside but only at 25% of capacity. However, bars, barbershops, hair salons and gyms would not be allowed to open until at least mid-May.

The difference between what qualifies between a bar and a restaurant depends on sales, said San Antonio’s City Attorney Andy Segovia.

“Under the governor’s order it makes it pretty clear that if your sales of alcohol exceed your sales of food you’re in the bar category,” Segovia said. “And the good news is, as I understand it, your actual license that you get from the state determines which one of those you fall under.”

In his orders, the governor said the capacity would increase to 50% if there was not a dramatic increase in positive cases in the next two weeks.

Nirenberg said there will be other changes as time moves forward and data will be monitored.

“What we want to do is make sure we’re going through this pain only once if we can help it,” Nirenberg said. “So, as we open things, as we open activities, as we get back to some sense of normalcy we want to do so in a safe manner which means we can’t do it all at once, we’ve got to phase it in. I think the governor recognizes that.”

The Texas Department of State Health Services reported about 25,300 cases and 663 deaths as of Monday night.

Recent projections put the peak of Bexar County’s coronavirus cases around mid-May. Estimates put the maximum number of cases in Bexar County at 3,600 if proper social distancing measures are kept in place. Had there been no social distancing at all, the University of Texas at San Antonio projected the county could have seen more than 900,000 cases during the pandemic.

On Monday night, Metro Health reported a total of 1,275 coronavirus cases in Bexar County with 44 deaths. About 42% of patients had made a complete recovery. Metro Health also reported 20,200 tests had been conducted in Bexar County since testing began and 93% percent of cases came back negative.

Nirenberg said it is possible to open businesses safely as long as social distancing measures and limiting public gatherings is still observed.  

“Don’t stop doing that, we are not through with this virus and this virus is not through with us,” Nirenberg said. 

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

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