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May 23: Governor Suspends Jail Visits; San Antonio's Unemployment Rate At 13.7%

This Post is Archived: Find the newest information on COVID-19 in San Antonio at the links below.

Texas Public Radio is updating the latest information on COVID-19 in the San Antonio area, along with how local businesses are adjusting, how you can help those in need and what you can do to stay entertained at home. TPR is also providing live updates on the Rio Grande Valley.

Saturday, May 23

6:35 p.m. — More than half of nursing homes have been tested

Mayor Ron Nirenberg reported 2,418 total confirmed cases, up 26 from yesterday. Of the new cases, 14 are from the community, three are from the jail and one from congregate settings. There are 10 additional cases under investigation.

There have been no new deaths; the total stands at 66.

There are 70 positive cases in local hospitals. Of those cases, 38 people are in intensive care, and 19 are on ventilators. Nirenberg noted that there had been an uptick in hospitalizations in the past week but that the numbers have gone down slightly in the past two days.

County Judge Nelson Wolff said the numbers show that the San Antonio area can handle the reopening if people continue to social distance and wear masks.

The city has fully tested 38 of 65 nursing homes and plans to finish the universal testing next week. According to Nirenberg, the city tested 800 nursing home staff members and residents just today.

At a rally this afternoon, Bexar County Republican Chairwoman Cynthia Brehm claimed the COVID-19 pandemic "has been promulgated by the Democrats."

At the briefing, Nirenberg responded: "I think there’s many people who are desperately trying to make this pandemic response a political issue, but it’s not."

Nirenberg added, "Let me quote our governor: Wear a mask."

6:10 p.m. — Watch today's daily briefing

5:00 p.m. — San Antonio's unemployment rate at 13.7%

State figures released Friday show the local unemployment rate more than tripled from March to April, from 4.5% to 13.7%.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said Friday that the only way to save the economy is for everyone to get back to work, earn a paycheck and support local businesses.

He feels many people will have to be retrained to work in different industries to earn those paychecks. He said the city and the county are helping to do that.

“We put in 50% of money into job training," he said. "We think that is one of the most important things.”

Mayor Ron Nirenberg agreed with Wolff. He urged locals to buy local to turn the economy around.

In March, city staff predicted San Antonio would see an employment rate reaching 14%.

For the San Antonio-New Braunfels metropolitan statistical area, the Texas Workforce Commission listed more than 93,000 jobs lost. Combined, the area around the two cities reached an unemployment rate of 13.2% Across the state, 1,298,900 jobs were lost.

TPR's Joey Palacios explored the latest unemployment rates in a special report here.

For more updates about how the overall business community has adjusted to the realities of the coronavirus crisis, follow TPR's special blog that is tracking the latest developments.

4:45 p.m. — New project aims to collect face coverings for needy

The City of San Antonio's "Covered with Compassion" initiative aims to collect 50,000 new cloth face coverings.

Donations of cloth masks, scarves, bandanas, and handkerchiefs will be distributed to marginalized communities in San Antonio.

The initiative partnered with the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to encourage its members and the entire business community to help reach the goal.

Donations of cloth face coverings can be dropped off Thursday, May 28, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at TriPoint at 3233 North St. Mary's.

For more updates about when and where to get tested, to give blood or how to get job, food and housing assistance, follow TPR's special blog tracking the latest opportunities to find and offer help.

4:00 p.m. — Task force helps UTSA prepare to reopen

The University of Texas at San Antonio has formed a task force to guide the university’s plans to reopen its campuses in the fall.

The Public Health Task Force will make recommendations for everything from class sizes to coronavirus testing protocols.

Co-chair Bernard Arulanandam said their goal is to tailor federal and state guidelines with the advice of local experts to fit the needs of a campus with more than 30,000 students.

“I think size does matter in this case," he said. "So, the bigger the campus, the number of students, staff and faculty. So we really have to find the appropriate balance.”

Arulanandam said the planning was still in the early stages. Recommendations were slated to be released sometime in June.

3:45 p.m. — SAMA ready to open

The San Antonio Museum of Art is ready to open. But it will be a different place.

Emily Sano, interim co-director of the San Antonio Museum of Art, said people can't just show up anymore. They have to schedule their visits.

"We have time slots on our website," she explained. "Potential visitors should sign up for a time slot. They will get a reservation with an email. And that they will show to the staff at the front desk when they come in. That will ensure that we are staying within our 25% of capacity."

She said the museum's size makes social distancing easy to do. If people don't have masks, they can buy one when they arrive.

SAMA members may schedule visits for Tuesday the 26th and Wednesday the 27th. The general public is welcome on Thursday the 28th. Learn more about reservations here.

3:00 p.m. — Wolff not impressed with Abbott's response to his letter

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff expressed disappointment in Gov. Greg Abbott’s reply to his letter seeking more COVID-19 funds for the state’s largest counties.

Wolff had a short response to the governor’s desire to see all Texas counties share evenly in the funds: “Not a very good answer, and not a very good reason."

Wolff says the 11 biggest counties have 69% of all cases but are receiving just 28% percent of the funding.

2:15 p.m. — Museum explores African American military service

African Americans in the military are the focus of three digital exhibits this Memorial Day Weekend.

The COVID-19 outbreak has closed the San Antonio African American Community Archive and Museum, but it continues online.

Visitors may explore the periods of the Texas Revolution, the frontier-era Buffalo Soldiers and the segregated military.

Deborah Omawale Jarmon, the museum’s executive director, explained the focus of the Texas Revolution exhibit:

“We highlight two soldiers, Hendrick Arnold and Samuel McCullough Jr.," she said. "We also talk about African Americans at the Alamo."

Arnold served as a guide and spy for the Texans. McCullough was the first Texas casualty of the revolution, wounded at Goliad.

The three exhibits can be viewed at saaacam.org

1:15 p.m. — City checking in with Cowboys Dance Hall

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said officials will keep an eye on Cowboys Dance Hall this weekend after patrons were spotted in long lines and without masks.

He says police paid the popular country dance venue a visit on Friday.

“We had SAPD and Code Enforcement DSD to go out there today to visit with the management of Cowboys to make sure they understood exactly what parts of the facility could remain open, what could operate, their occupancy limitations, how to make sure their patrons are following the rules.”

Nirenberg said the city will respond to complaints and violations and close establishments in violation if needed.

Cowboys Dance Hall was taking the temperature of patrons at the door and remains open.

12:00 p.m. — JBSA lowers health protection status

Starting Tuesday, May 26, Joint Base San Antonio will downgrade its health protection level to moderate, and it will reopen some of the facilities it closed because of COVID-19.

Fitness centers will open their doors to some -- with rules in place for building occupancy and mask-wearing.

JBSA will also discontinue its “Official Business Only” policy, and reinstate Trusted Traveler access. That means DOD cardholders can access the installation and vouch for other occupants in their vehicles.

Visitor passes will no longer need command sponsorship.

Joint Base San Antonio commander Laura Lenderman spoke about the changes in a Facebook video on Friday.

"There's still a threat of disease," she said. "So we still need you to maintain social distancing, wear your masks, sanitize the equipment, sanitize your hands, continue to do the things that you're still doing as we transition to this next health protection condition."

JBSA officials said the changes were made based on “significant progress made since the first cases of COVID-19.” Base leaders said they took CDC guidance — and San Antonio’s phased reopening plan — into account.

11:30 a.m. — Free essential supplies available

Small businesses and nonprofits can register to receive free essential supplies during the Supply Pickup Day on May 27th at the Alamodome.

The supplies include a non-contact thermometer, two gallons of hand sanitizer, and face masks.

Eligible businesses are those inside city limits with 25 employees or less that were in operation before March 1, 2020, and were closed by executive orders.

You can register by calling 3-1-1 from 7 a.m.–7 p.m.

For more updates about when and where to get tested, to give blood or how to get job, food and housing assistance, follow TPR's special blog tracking the latest opportunities to find and offer help.

11:00 a.m. — Fort Sam cemetery has advice for visitors

Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery expects a lot of visitors this Memorial Day weekend as family members visit gravesites to remember loved ones who served.

Cemetery officials say no groups larger than ten are allowed in and masks are required. All public facilities on the grounds are closed. Vehicle access is limited.

The cemetery is open from sunrise to sunset.

There are more than 144,000 interments at the cemetery, including 14 Medal of Honor recipients, 27 Buffalo Soldiers, Captain William Randolph, the namesake of the local air force base, and former Congressman Frank Tejeda.

10:00 a.m. — Texas governor suspends jail visits

In-person visits are suspended at Texas county & municipal jails. Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued the executive order on Friday.

The restriction does not apply to visits by an attorneys meeting with clients or visits by religious leaders.

Abbott said the executive order adds another layer of defense to contain COVID-19 and protect staff and inmates.

Prisons and detention centers are considered hot spots for the spread of the coronavirus.

Read more about the situation in the Bexar County jail here.

9:15 a.m. — St. Mary's announces layoffs

St. Mary’s University is laying off 24 staff members as part of a $10 million budget cut for the next fiscal year.

School officials said the budget cuts were needed to “brace for declines in enrollment” expected following the coronavirus outbreak.

In addition to the layoffs, 57 employees will be furloughed for one to two months this summer.

Higher paid faculty and staff would see reductions in pay.

Friday, May 22

6:30 p.m. — Majority of new cases are from community spread

Mayor Ron Nirenberg reported 2,392 confirmed cases, up 21 from yesterday. A majority of the new cases are from community spread — 13 cases — with only one from congregate settings. The other seven cases have yet to be categorized.

There have been two new deaths, bringing the total to 66.

In local hospitals, there are 73 people who have tested positive and 17 cases under investigation. There are 41 people in intensive care and 21 on ventilators.

In April, the number of patients in local hospitals dropped below 60. Yesterday, there were 82 people in the hospital and today, 73. According to Nirenberg, the growth in number of hospitalizations cannot be attributed to increased testing because the patients were not asymptomatic. While the increase is gradual, Nirenberg said it is still a cause for concern.

The increase is a reminder that the virus is still out there, Nirenberg added. He warned that as Texas reopens, citizens should keep that in mind and said it is critical that people follow the public health professionals’ recommendations.

6:10 p.m. — Watch today's daily briefing

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines

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