LevelMagazine – United States – With the coronavirus mounting and no statewide shutdown on the horizon, officials in San Antonio and Bexar Counties are taking strong, if temporary, action

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As the coronavirus pandemic looks on track for a brutal turnaround this winter, those in charge in San Antonio and Bexar Counties have rushed to locate that Few tools are available to help manage local response to the virus.

On Wednesday, Bexar County’s Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Judge Nelson Wolff took the dramatic step of imposing a nightly curfew on Thanksgiving holiday weekend – an attempt to discourage large gatherings and slow the spread of COVID-19.

Every night between 10 p. m. and 5 a. m. From Thursday to Monday morning, people are prohibited from gathering outside their household. Restaurants are also not allowed to let customers dine during this time, although they can still offer take-away meals.

It was a rare demonstration of local control over the pandemic response, with city and county leaders often feeling obstructed by the government. Greg Abbott.

Abbott has ruled out yet another wave of statewide restrictions or closings on bars, restaurants and retailers in response to the rise in the virus, and has refused to authorize county and / or county leaders to take action to stop the spred of curbing COVID-19 – power they had at the start of the pandemic, but the governor took away.

Nirenberg and Wolff, however, found at least a temporary way around the governor in terms of bars and restaurants for the vacation weekend.

« It’s very difficult when our hands are tied, » said District 4 councilor Adriana Rocha Garcia. “But we still have to be the ones to at least say, ‘Wear your mask, try to stay three feet apart, and don’t gather in small areas. ’”

Nirenberg and Wolff now believe their strongest weapon is moral conviction: direct, daily appeals to the public to behave responsibly in the face of the pandemic.

The two men have asked residents to wear masks, avoid large gatherings, and stay at least three feet away from other people, especially during the Thanksgiving festival and winter holidays. Officials can only hope that people will take this advice.

« We can’t stop this virus if you don’t change your behavior, » says Nirenberg during his daily television reviews of the pandemic. « If you ignore the warnings this Thanksgiving Day, you or your loved ones could be in the hospital for Christmas. These are just the facts. ”

In ExpressNews. com: « A dark winter »: San Antonio health experts warn of difficult months for coronavirus transmission

Nirenberg has vowed to step up efforts by the city in another area where it still has authority: cracking down on businesses and local residents who violate Abbotts’ masking rules, social distancing, and other regulations Violate emergency orders. This is an approach the governor has recommended to local leaders when they have grumbled about not having enough power to fight the virus.

The city has added 10 code officers to the ranks of those involved in enforcing COVID rules, increasing the number to 30. That’s enough to run up to 350 company inspections a week, officials say.

Before this week, city officials decided not to take an aggressive approach to enforcement. They said they would prefer to encourage voluntary compliance rather than resorting to coercive measures – but the recent surge in cases and hospitalizations has made such a strategy unsustainable.

« I think the approach we took when it wasn’t up much was just the right move, » said Colleen Bridger, interim director of the Metropolitan Health District. “The focus was on education – helping people understand why they had to do this. Now that we are on the rise, you hear that we will take a more proactive approach, including implementing some of these causes and effects faster. ”

Since the virus arrived in San Antonio in March, the city has issued 295 citations to residents and businesses for violating coronavirus orders. This is one of more than 3. 000 violations by city police officers since March.

This approach has on occasion made city council members nervous. At the beginning of this month, the St. . The Anthony Hotel in downtown San Antonio hosted a wedding reception for around 150 people, most of whom were not wearing masks or were not keeping the required distance from one another.

The San Antonio Police Department received three calls about Nov.. . 14 Wedding – also by Rocha Garcia, who called the prison hotline after a voter whose husband worked at reception told her about the scene.

According to a report on the city’s website, officials asked wedding guests to wear their masks indoors. However, no warning or citation was given.

« We have to get creative to get people to make sure they are complying, » said Rocha Garcia. “Is it shameful? How do we do that? Is that what it takes I don’t know what it takes, but we have to do something. ”

According to Abbott’s emergency orders, officials must first issue warnings before they can write a ticket for no more than $ 250. The city has fined masks for violations of masks since June 108, when Wolff’s mask order – which was later superseded by Abbotts – came into effect.

« Do you really think the cop will find the same guy he warned before? » Said Wolff.

Often times this means punishing only those who do not immediately put on a mask when confronted, said City Manager Erik Walsh. However, Walsh noted that the city is not required to issue warnings before citing a company for a violation.

« With cases growing rapidly, we are now stepping up enforcement and will promptly quote companies that do not need the correct security protocols, » said Walsh.

The city may also shut down businesses that repeatedly violate emergency orders, but it has rarely done so since the pandemic began in March.

On Tuesday, officials revoked the occupancy certificate for XTC Cabaret, a strip club on the northeast side, after receiving six quotes for violating the rules for wearing masks and social distancing – the third time the city has received one Took step.

Outside of this weekend’s curfew, Wolff has some leeway to close a small number of bars if the virus gets too intense. If the local positivity rate – the percentage of COVID-19 tests that come back positive – stays at 10 percent or more for at least two weeks, Wolff may close bars that don’t make more than half of their food sales revenue. This rate was 10 percent on Monday.

Before imposing the curfew, Wolff and Nirenberg did not seem keen to impose stricter restrictions on bars and restaurants – whether that meant limiting occupancy or prohibiting them from opening. Much of the local spread of the virus is due to « private and social gatherings, » Nirenberg said in a statement Monday.

« As I’ve said several times, it’s behavior – not specific locations – that keeps the virus from spreading, » Nirenberg said.

Most new local cases of COVID-19 come from gatherings of family members and friends in the household, unlike at the beginning of the pandemic when much of the transmission took place in bars, restaurants and gyms, said Dr. . Jason Bowling, Infectious Disease Specialist at UT Health San Antonio.

But as the virus spreads, the likelihood of it contracting in any setting increases, Bowling said.

Nirenberg and Wolff will not seek litigation with Abbott if they feel compelled to impose major restrictions.

Despite Abbott, El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego issued an emergency injunction to shut down businesses there amid a punitive surge in the virus – only to put it down in court.

Wolff supported Samaniego’s efforts, he said, but he would not try anything like this unless the situation in Bexar County was similarly dire.

Policy makers oppose less extreme measures. An idea that came from the City Councilor of the 7th. District, Ana Sandoval, who chairs the City Council’s Community Health and Equity Committee, is to help restaurants create outdoor dining areas, as is the case in other cities.

« We would drastically reduce the risk of transmission if we moved a significant amount of outdoor restaurants, » said Sandoval. « I think it’s worth exploring because people want to eat out in restaurants. ”

Officials are also continuing their field communication efforts to provide information on how to be safe. Although cases are increasing in some neighborhoods on the west and south sides of the city, in other areas that were badly hit at the start of the pandemic, case numbers have fallen in recent weeks.

This could reflect the efforts of Metro Health staff and council members, who went door-to-door to distribute literature promoting COVID safe practices, as well as engaging local residents on social media with safety tips.

But Rocha Garcia, who represents the southwest side of the city, fears that despite the warnings, people will gather for Thanksgiving. She knows the pain COVID-19 can cause – six cousins ​​on her father’s side died from the virus. Her family now suspects they were infected at a Father’s Day meeting.

« Hasn’t it happened to your family yet? That doesn’t mean it won’t happen in your family, » warned Rocha Garcia.

Joshua Fechter is a San Antonio government and political reporter. To read more from Joshua, become a subscriber. jfechter @ express-news. net | Twitter: @JFReports

Joshua Fechter is a reporter who covers City Hall and San Antonio politics for Express News. Previously, he worked in real estate, economic development, retail and tourism. After graduating from Moody College of Communication at the University of Texas at Austin in 2014, Joshua joined Express News in 2014 as a breaking news reporter for mySA. com.

San Antonio, coronavirus, curfew, Ron Nirenberg, Bexar County, Nelson Wolff

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