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Bars, gyms, car dealerships are major contributors to San Antonio coronavirus surge, officials say

"People are letting their guard down, and they can't do that," the city's mayor said.

SAN ANTONIO — As San Antonio reckons with a major surge in novel coronavirus cases and residents who have been hospitalized with the virus, local leaders say bars, gyms, and car dealerships have anecdotally shown to be major contributors to the virus's local impact.

In a Friday afternoon briefing, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said that conclusion is based on conversations hospital workers have been having with COVID-19 patients. While he noted that the inclusion of car dealerships in that list is unusual, he said it was vital that customers at those types of businesses, in particular, wear a mask and practice social distancing when possible. 

When it comes to bars, however, Assistant City Manager Colleen Bridger said the result of reopenings that has manifested in more cases isn't a surprise. 

"Bars worry me greatly. People are not social distancing, they're not wearing masks," Bridger said at the briefing. "It's irresponsible when people go in there and act like COVID-19 doesn't exist."

Nirenberg reported 412 new lab-confirmed cases of the virus in Bexar County on Friday, amounting to the second-highest daily count since the ongoing pandemic began. The four highest totals have all come in the last four days. 

Credit: KENS

Meanwhile, the number of San Antonians admitted to local hospitals with the virus rose to 322 on Friday, which is more than double the number of residents who were in hospitals on Thursday. As of Friday, just 25% of hospital beds remained available for incoming patients. 

Echoing a sentiment that he and eight other Texas mayors shared in a letter penned to residents across the Lone Star State, the mayor lamented how the politicization of the discussion around health guidance has impeded local efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 as businesses have welcome back customers for the first time in weeks. 

"This peak is accelerating so fast; it literally happened overnight," Nirenberg said. "And it tracks back to when we started opening these things and also when people started to get mixed messages about masks and physical distancing."

The mayor also pointed to another troubling trend: that of the number of tests coming back positive. Even as local COVID-19-testing sites have been operating at maximum capacity in recent days, Nirenberg said the positivity rate has risen to a staggering 19%. 

Ahead of the holiday weekend, he implored the city to celebrate safely Juneteenth, Father's Day, and the start of summer safely—even if that means putting in-person celebrations on hold or traveling to see loved ones in other houses. 

"Do not host a big family get-together that jeopardizes the health of your family and of those around you," Nirenberg said. 

Bridger, meanwhile, said the city is continuing to explore every avenue for increasing access to testing for residents. She said that she anticipates sites will be able to test up to 5,200 people each day, a jump from the maximum capacity of 4,000 currently. 

Nirenberg also reminded the public about the use of masks, which, starting on Monday, Bexar County businesses will have to start mandating the use of when social distancing isn't a possibility. 

"(Masks) are not a luxury item. They are actually the key to whether or not we can continue to open up the economy," he said. "We can do this. We can continue to enjoy things. But people are letting their guard down, and they can't do that." 

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