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San Antonio

Bexar County Commissioners approve COVID test funding, hear call for election security

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Bexar County
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Aerial view rendering of Women's Wellness Center. Bexar County Commissioners approved a letter of support for the facility during Tuesday's meeting.

Bexar Commissioners on Tuesday approved $1.3 million from federal COVID-19 relief funding to support local testing by Community Labs and Con Corazón San Antonio.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff urged both organizations to ramp up testing as local hospital beds fill up.

"People are scared I think. They want to know if they got COVID, so if they do they can isolate and stay home and not pass it on to someone else," he said.

Wolff said he recently saw people in a line wrapped around buildings at an Alamo Colleges District testing event.

Commissioners urged the testers to step up testing after hours and on weekends and in underserved areas of the city and county.

This year's Martin Luther King Jr. March on the East Side will be marked with a virtual observance and COVID-19 testing and vaccinations, and a blood drive.

MLK Commission Chair Renee Watson told Bexar County Commissioners for a second year in a row the virus has canceled the event, the largest of its kind in the nation. Tens of thousands of marchers turn out each year.

"We are exercising safety and health of our community. Our hospitals are already full. The judge and mayor have been doing an incredible job of making sure we get vaccinated. That we get boostered and the testing," Watson said.

Next Monday between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., testing, vaccinations and a blood drive will be set up in Pittman-Sullivan Park, where the now-canceled march traditionally ends. A community-produced MLK observance will air online next Monday at 10 a.m. on TVSA.

In other action, commissioners directed county staff to report back within 30 days on increased voting security, especially at the county election's office, as the March 1 joint primaries approach.

Early voting starts Feb. 14.

Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen told commissioners given the national narrative, "emotions are quite high" and there have been "a lot of threats." She also reminded them an armed intruder was able to enter the election's building last summer.

"Back in June of last year, there was an active shooter that had entry to the building and to purchasing... and made it into the secure area of our office and it was tough," she said.

The shooter is suspected of firing a gun nearby and running into the elections building to hide. He was arrested and was not targeting the election's office, but it did expose a lack of security at the headquarters overseeing all elections in the county.

The elections administrator said COVID has made early voting locations a little more fluid this year because some past polling locations don't want potentially COVID-positive people to enter. She said some early voting election workers are also catching the virus.

She also told commissioners Senate Bill 1 has made it more difficult to process mail-in ballot applications, for those who wish to stay home and not be exposed to COVID-19.

Callanen said half of the 80 mail-in ballot requests received in one recent day had to be rejected for one reason or another under the requirements of SB1.

She gave commissioners one example of SB1's harshness. Callanen said if a woman calls and leaves a voice message requesting a mail-in ballot application for her and her husband, the election's office can only send one to the woman because it was a female voice on the recording. She said an election worker would have to call the same woman back and ask to speak to her husband before they can mail-out an application to him.

Commissioners also on Tuesday:

  • Approved a letter of support for a Women's Wellness Center, which will cover 43,000 square feet and will cost $10 million.  Its services will include help for women with substance abuse issues and for babies exposed to substance abuse.  Commissioners were told by Dr. Lisa Cleveland of UT Health-San Antonio that Bexar County leads major Texas counties in the number of babies exposed to drugs.
  • Approved an interlocal agreement with the City of San Antonio valued at $4 million for continued work on the eight-phase Seeling Channel flood control project in Precinct 2. Public Works Director Renee Green told county commissioners the massive project includes the removal of 448 structures from flood prone areas. She said the work prevents an estimated $300 million in property damage from floods over a 50-year period.
  • Approved a budget transfer of nearly $216,000 for the county's first-ever four stream recycling process by county workers and county facilities to include cans, paper, plastic and cardboard. The funding will go towards the purchase of five balers and 182 four-stream containers and 20 recycle containers at county facilities. County Facilities Manager Dan Curry told commissioners the expanded recycling efforts could pay for itself and possibly lead to some revenue from vendors who purchase county recyclables. 
  • Presented retired County Parks Director Betty Bueche with the county's highest award, the Hidalgo, for her 17 years of service to the county.  County Judge Nelson Wolff praised Bueche's accomplishments, including winning the World Heritage Site designation for the San Antonio missions, restoration of the county courthouse, and turning the remains of the historic Hot Wells sulfur water spa on the South Side into a county park. Bueche retired on Dec. 31.
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