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Mayor Nirenberg On San Antonio's Delta Surge, Mask Mandate Lawsuit, Vaccination Efforts, Hospital Capacity And EMS Delays

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Joey Palacios | Texas Public Radio
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Mayor Ron Nirenberg has had to contend with many challenges during his time in office but none so difficult as the COVID-19 pandemic, which currently poses a "severe" threat as delta continues to surge throughout San Antonio.

On Friday, officials reported a 7-day rolling average of 1,391 cases and a positivity rate of 21.4%. Nearly 90% of new cases are attributable to the more contagious delta variant and about 13% are pediatric.

Schools are now in session and local officials including Nirenberg are engulfed in an ongoing battle with Texas Gov. Abbott and other state leaders over whether or not they can impose mandate masks, especially for young children who are not yet eligible to receive a vaccine.

On Monday, a district court judge granted the City of San Antonio and Bexar County’s temporary injunction on Gov. Abbott's mask mandate ban, restoring authority to local officials to keep mask mandates in place in public schools and city- and county-owned buildings.

How will the mandate be enforced? Will student and teacher mask requirements be enough to curb the spread in schools and prevent new pediatric hospitalizations? What happens when the issue of mask mandates goes to the Texas Supreme Court for a full hearing?

Hospital capacity is stressed as residents — mostly unvaccinated — increasingly fall ill amid a statewide nursing shortage and a rising number of emergency calls delay EMS response times.

Approximately 1,300 people in the San Antonio area were hospitalized with the virus last week — 10 times more than at the start of July. At least 3,700 residents have died from the virus since March 2020.

Just how stressed is the area's health care system? How is the influx of COVID patients impacting the availability of resources to treat non-COVID health concerns? What could happen to area hospitals if the situation gets worse?

Officials reported on Friday that 64.3% of the area’s eligible population are fully vaccinated, and nearly 79% have gotten at least one dose.

What's being done to address local vaccine hesitancy and hostility, and to reconnect with the more than 100,000 residents who haven't returned for their second shot? How do pop-up clinics aim to increase the city's vaccination rate?

Mayor Nirenberg and County Judge Wolff resumed joint COVID briefings in July when infections again began to surge. Will the rising number of cases and increased demand also prompt a reopening of mass testing locations?

How is the City of San Antonio working to combat virus disinformation, to convince residents about the danger delta poses to unvaccinated adults and children, and to strengthen the community's resolve to curb its spread?

Guest: Ron Nirenberg, Mayor of the City of San Antonio

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*This interview was recorded on Tuesday, August 17.