City, county leaders warn of new COVID-19 spike, stress on healthcare system

City and county leaders held a press conference Friday to warn the community about a new spike in COVID-19 infections that’s expected to get worse.

“We’re facing stress on our healthcare system,” said University Health Chief Medical Officer Bryan Alsip.

COVID hospitalizations in Bexar County have increased by more than 75% from just one week ago. On Dec. 24, there were 198 people who had been admitted to a local hospital with COVID-19. As of yesterday, that number had jumped to 352.

Limiting ER visits

Alsip encouraged people who may be experiencing mild-to-moderate COVID-like symptoms to manage their symptoms at home so emergency room doctors can manage the most critically ill patients.

“Emergency facilities are not the place to seek COVID testing,” Alsip said.

Instead, Alsip said, people should utilize one of the community testing facilities or contact their primary care providers for testing or treatments. Several at-home treatments have recently gained FDA approval in addition to the monoclonal therapies that are available.

Alsip said that even though omicron seems to be relatively mild clinically compared to previous COVID strains, the sheer number is exacerbating staffing challenges.

Nurses and other hospital workers are already working overtime and now, many are also getting sick.

Wolff said the county has 411 nurses imported from other areas and will need to request more to make sure hospitals have enough staffing to handle the increasing caseloads.

Vaccine best defense against serious COVID symptoms

Omicron appears to be the most contagious strain yet, with a small number of sick people able to infect a large number of others, Alsip said.

“Never before during this two-year pandemic have I had so many family members and so many friends come down with COVID,” said Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff. “It is spreading and it’s spreading fast and I think it will probably get a lot worse before it gets better.”

“If you have an unvaccinated friend, try to talk them into getting it or stay the hell away from them,” Wolff said.

While vaccinated people are still getting the virus, it’s been proven effective to protect people against serious illness.

“Roughly eight out of 10 patients in the hospital yesterday for COVID were unvaccinated,” said San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg. “That should tell you something.”

San Antonio and Bexar County residents are vaccinated at a higher rate than the state average with more than 70% of people over the age of five fully vaccinated.

Local health officials said they’re recommending that everyone wear a mask in public regardless of vaccination status and urged people to take precautions when celebrating the New Year.

Find a vaccination site here.

Test shortages

Both Wolff and Nirenberg addressed the shortage of rapid test kits.

“A lot of the drug stores are running out of the COVID tests,” Wolff said. “President Biden has said we’re going to get 500,000 test kits, he really needs to move a heck of a lot faster.”

The mayor said the city still has plenty of curative tests — though community testing sites are closed until Monday.

Find a testing site here.

COVID spike at BCSO

Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar also spoke during Friday’s press conference saying he’s seen a recent spike in cases among inmates and BCSO employees. In late November, the jail had only one inmate with COVID and only a handful of deputies with the virus, now there are 38 cases among inmates and 50 cases among BCSO employees. Salazar said there are more than 90 employees under quarantine and nearly all of the exposures happened outside the jail.

Watch Friday’s press conference:

Also on KSAT:

University Health urges people to use ERs only in true emergencies, skip New Year’s Eve parties due to omicron surgeMetro Health officials warning residents to celebrate NYE safely as COVID-19 cases riseWhere to get tested for COVID-19 in San Antonio, Bexar CountyEXPLAINER: What COVID-19 therapies are available in US?EXPLAINER: New easy-to-use COVID-19 pills come with a catch