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Health Transition Team Outlines Guidance To Ease Social Distancing In Bexar County

Each night San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff hold a briefing on COVID-19 updates.
Joey Palacios | Texas Public Radio
Each night San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff hold a briefing on COVID-19 updates.

Social distancing measures in Bexar County will be relaxed in phases as part of a new plan released by a COVID-19 Health Transition Team formed by the City of San Antonio and Bexar County.

The guidance is broken up in four phases with slightly less strict social distancing plans in each phase. It was drafted over the last two weeks through a team of 15 medical professionals and two members of the San Antonio City Council and Bexar County Commissioners Court. The released guidance comes one day after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott released a plan to reopen some businesses starting Friday.

Phase one of the report is a continuance of what is already being done in Bexar County and most major Texas cities now. Residents are urged to stay at home, restaurants must keep  their dining rooms closed and only essential retail is allowed to operate.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said the social distancing is working to keep the curve low in Bexar County.

“If you look at the models that are available, they all point to social distancing as being the difference maker,” Nirenberg said during Tuesday’s nightly briefing. “If you are pushing hard and doing the (social) distancing and following the health guidance you continue to trend in the right direction. What we don’t know is, if you take your foot off the gas what happens.”

Under the guidance, if certain factors are met, relaxations under Phase Two can be implemented.

You can read the report here.

Those thresholds include a “sustained decline in the number of new cases of COVID-19” for 14 days, the “ability to perform tests for the virus in all people with symptoms of COVID-19, their close contacts, and those in public facing roles,” effective contact tracing, and a “prepared healthcare system that can safely care for all patients, including sufficient hospital capacity.”

Phase two allows for staggered reopening based on risk. Some small gatherings of less than 50 people like birthday parties in homes would be allowed — but it doesn’t recommend mass gatherings like weddings, funerals, concerts or the large events of Fiesta.

Phases three and four recommend maneuvers into less social distancing and preparation for future pandemics.

Dr. Barbara Taylor of UT Health is leading the team, she says it looks like some indicators are moving positively.

“We are not done, this is not a race. It’s marathon, but I think I am optimistic as I often am that we are definitely moving in the right direction and it’s really because of everybody’s efforts,” Taylor said.

The guidance also includes warning indicators to determine if a COVID-19 risk is increasing in the county.

Those indicators include an increase in the percentage of positive cases among test results, an increase of stress on the health system and a decrease in the amount of time it takes for the number of cases to double.

Although things are moving positively, that’s not an indication that the virus is over.

“It’s an indication – it’s evidence – that what we have been doing is working,” said San Antonio Metro Health Director Dawn Emerick.

San Antonio and Bexar County’s public health emergency orders expire on Thursday night. On Friday, many businesses in Texas can reopen to the public with only a quarter of its occupancy. Nirenberg said the city and county’s orders will still have social distancing orders in place.

“Largely it’s a renewal of the old order just with additional activities that are permitted and we want to establish in the order best practices with regard to distancing public gatherings and our ability to enforce violations,” said Nirenberg.

Tuesday’s reporting  shows there are 1,307 cases in Bexar County, which is an increase of 32 from the previous night. About 44%of all the county’s cases have made a recovery. However, there are 44 deaths related to COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

Out of nearly 21,000 tests conducted in Bexar County, about 93% have returned negative.

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

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