San Antonio’s New Metro Health Director Takes Helm As Daily Coronavirus Cases Rise In Bexar County
San Antonio Metro Health has a new public health director. Claude Jacob joined the city earlier this month and will lead the countywide response to the pandemic at a time when cases are beginning to rise.
Jacob comes from Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he served in a similar role as the chief public health officer for the city since 2007. He’ll be overseeing the department after former Assistant City Manager Dr. Colleen Bridger left the city earlier this week in a planned departure to start a consulting business.
Although the pandemic is front and center, Jacob said Metro Health will continue its focus on primary health initiatives during a meeting with members of the press on Thursday.
“Our work around asthma education, our work around diabetes prevention, you've heard the city manager talk about violence, domestic violence in particular. So these are lining up with our strategic growth plan. And these are areas where we see an opportunity to make a dent,” he said.
Jacob, who acknowledged he is not a physician, holds a master’s degree in public health from the University of Illinois and is a doctoral candidate at the University of North Carolina for a PhD in health leadership.
The city hasn’t had a permanent health director since Dawn Emerick suddenly resigned last summer as Texas began to see a significant wave of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations during a spike. In the meantime, Dr. Bridger had delayed plans to step down from the city on two separate occasions in order to serve as interim health director and incident commander for the pandemic response.
Jacob will have direct oversight from San Antonio City Manager Erik Walsh — a difference in structuring compared to other city department directors which typically have an assistant city manager or deputy city manager above them. The change was necessary due to the urgency in responding to the pandemic and overall goals of the health department.
“It's too critical both in terms of COVID, but also in terms of our eye on the horizon, in terms of the strategic growth plan. And I want to make sure that we stay on path,” Walsh said.
Metro Health’s biggest challenge is to encourage COVID-19 vaccinations. As of this week, only 60% of people over age 12 are fully vaccinated in Bexar County, and more than 100,000 people have not returned for a second dose.
“The vaccines are safe, the vaccines are effective. And sadly, we see, especially the last few weeks, the lion's share of folks being hospitalized associated with a COVID. It's because they have not been vaccinated,” Jacob said.
As of statistics released Wednesday, the number of cases per day is at 363 according to the 7-day average calculated by Metro Health; that number has nearly tripled in the last two weeks. The positivity rate is now at 13% when it was under 5% just two weeks ago. And concurrent hospitalizations are now at 397. That has grown by 250 since early July. The vast majority of patients in the hospital had not been vaccinated.
Although the increases are sharp, Jacob did not describe it as a third wave of COVID-19.
“We are encouraging folks to become vaccinated. We are paying attention to what we've seen over the last few weeks in terms of the positivity rates increasing. But it's hard to describe it as a wave. Just know that there are peaks and valleys to this whole experience,” he said.
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