STAAMP Allergy administered the vaccines Tuesday morning
This story was originally published by KSAT12 and can be found here.
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SAN ANTONIO — More than 4.5 million Texans have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, and due to a recent announcement by the Biden administration, teachers and other school staff are now eligible to be immunized.
Those efforts are underway this week, as San Antonio ISD partnered with South Texas Allergy and Asthma Professionals (STAAMP) to vaccinate 100 employees on Tuesday.
Michael Rodriguez in an electrician with the district and was one of the dozens who received a prick in his arm.
“It’s very important so that I don’t get sick and I don’t infect others,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said his days consist of traveling to different campuses and coming in contact with many different people.
“We’re around kids, teachers, and we just want to make sure everyone is safe and healthy,” he said.
The vaccines made up the first shipment of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine that STAAMP has received.
“We’re happy to be able to have that service for them to help protect our some of our true first line heroes that are out there,” said Erika Gonzalez, CEO and president of STAAMP.
Gonzalez said the Johnson & Johnson vaccine – which consists of just one dose, unlike the Pfizer and Moderna options – has a 100% protection rate from death, according to studies.
“That’s really what the point is here, to save lives,” Gonzalez said. “The Johnson & Johnson (vaccine) is just as good as the other two vaccines. So, to the teachers out there – not just from the SAISD district, but from everywhere – we are thankful for you guys being out there, putting your lives on the line.”
SAISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez said the district has around 40% of students receiving in-classroom instruction.
“We know that we need more,” said Martinez. “We have many children that are remote right now, that are struggling, and parents are worried. So is our staff.”
The district partnered with Community Labs a few months ago to administer rapid COVID-19 testing to students and staff.
“We’re one of the few districts in the country that offers that to our students and our staff, and that really reduces the anxiety,” Martinez said. “What scares them the most is the unknown.”
Martinez said the partnership with STAAMP marks the beginning of the effort to get local teachers, school staff and child care workers vaccinated.
He said around 25% of district staff has already received their vaccine.
The 100 employees who received the vaccine on Tuesday work at high schools, because many are still working doing extra-curricular activities and other events.
They also selected support and maintenance staff like Rodriguez who are continuing duties through Spring Break.
“We’re going to be planning with STAAMP and other partners to try to get all of our staff done,” said Martinez. “My hope is that we get them done by no later than mid-May.”
As for Rodriguez, he hopes his colleagues will get their vaccine when it’s available to them.
“It’s better to be safe than sorry, and we’ve already seen what sorry means,” he said. “(There’s) so many that we’ve lost already.”
SAN ANTONIO – As the COVID-19 pandemic drags on, local doctors say “COVID fatigue” is real as residents get sick, not of the coronavirus but of dealing with it.
“’You know, ‘I’ve had it up to here, and I’m not doing it anymore,’” said Texas MedClinic Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Gude, who said he has seen people going to more events they may have avoided earlier on in the pandemic.
While this past weekend saw supporters of both President-elect Joe Biden and President Donald Trump gather across the country, including in South Texas, it’s not big events that are currently sending patients to Gude’s chain of urgent care clinics. Instead, he says, it’s events like family dinners and weddings.
“Last week, I was seeing several people who went to a wedding,” Gude said. “There were five people so far that had tested positive because the wedding had been put off in May, and they just didn’t want to have to put it off any longer. So they had the wedding, and now multiple people are ill.”
Despite instances like this, Bexar County case numbers remained relatively low until Monday since the large wave of cases this summer. Meanwhile, the U.S. as a whole, has been hitting record highs for new cases in the past week.
Dr. Erika Gonzalez, the president and CEO of South Texas Allergy and Asthma Medical Professionals, thinks the local infection rate may play a role in local perceptions.
“You know, luckily, we did see the rate of infection kind of steady here in San Antonio. So I think that that also made people kind of get a false sense of security that, ‘Hey, you know what? Maybe this thing is over,” Gonzalez said.
Gude agreed that the relatively low stats might provide a false sense of security, and he does not believe the numbers would hold.
“I don’t think that it’s because we have a shield on,” Gude said, regarding Bexar County’s previously low case numbers. “I think it’s just that we live in an environment that we can be outside, and we can get our social milieu by being outside. But once we have to move indoors, I’m still concerned that we’re going to see significant spikes.”
This story was originally published by KSAT12 and can be found here.
SAN ANTONIO – “Don’t be afraid of Covid,” and similar recent statements made by President Donald Trump, despite his coronavirus diagnosis, were considered “careless, to put it mildly,” by Dr. Erika Gonzalez, who lost her mother to the virus in September.
Gonzalez said her father, who is dealing with the death of his wife of 51 years, is home from the hospital but relies on a tracheotomy to help him breathe because of COVID-19.
“I think that, obviously, my mom’s perspective would be you should be very afraid of the virus,” Gonzalez said.
The president and CEO of South Texas Allergy and Asthma Medical Professionals said it should be “a healthy fear, but definitely not disregard the true damage that this virus can do.”
Ron Wilkins, a noted musician and kidney transplant recipient who was finally released from the hospital in the summer after testing positive for the virus, said, “It’s not nearly as touch-and-go as it used to be.”
Wilkins is teaching trombone again at Texas State University.
“I’m more mobile and more able, but I still deal with a few aches and pains I didn’t have before,” he said. “Mentally, you know, there’s at times I’ll have these little gaps still in the thought process.”
Wilkins said he considers President Trump’s statements “a travesty.”
He said the President should tell the people who’ve already died, their friends and families, and those still suffering from COVID-19, “Don’t let it dominate your life.”
Gordon Hartman, the philanthropist and founder of Morgan’s Wonderland, said he was among the luckier ones.
Hartman said he was never hospitalized but was diagnosed with a “moderate” case of COVID-19. He later donated convalescent plasma to help others.
“I had an incredibly bad headache. I had chills, fever, coughs, a lot of typical things you hear that come with COVID,” he said. “It stuck around pretty aggressively.”
Hartman said one of the plumbers helping build Morgan Wonderland’s Camp died from COVID-19 despite being a 49-year-old man with no known health conditions.
“So to say that we can ‘look the other way’ or that ‘we’re past this’ or ‘don’t let it take control of your life,’ I would say is something that has to be definitely heard with much caution,” Hartman said. “It’s something that does need to be taken very seriously.”
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Students living at Texas A&M University-San Antonio will receive monthly COVID-19 tests. Provided by the A&M System, 700 tests per month will be administered without cost to Esperanza Hall dorm residents.
Located in portable 101B behind the Central Academic Building and open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday – Friday, the administering of tests is overseen by STAAMP Allergy, a local service provider, while Curative Inc., a Los Angeles national testing company, provides confidential results.
According to Dr. Mari Fuentes-Martin, vice president of Student Success and Engagement, with over 100 dorm residents tested, the decision to require monthly tests was made the final week of August starting the 26th after the number of COVID-19 tests provided to the university was verified the second week of school.
The university wasn’t sure of how severe COVID-19 was going to be or how many tests they were being provided when school opened up. Fuentes-Martin said because of this uncertainty, wellness stations were set up to take the temperatures of new residents moving in.
“The reason we’re very interested in that population is that they spend 24/7 together, unlike a classroom,” Fuentes-Martin said. “…You’re just in such close proximity to each other for a very extended amount of time, so we wanted to be extraordinarily careful.”
Though there have been zero positive cases among dorm residents, the university already has accommodations in place for Esperanza Hall residents who test positive.
Positive residents will be moved to an isolated apartment and asked to quarantine in place, while those potentially exposed to them are tested and quarantined for at least 48 hours.
Fuentes-Martin says A&M-San Antonio’s main goal is to provide the safest environment possible through preventative measures. To develop these measures, A&M-San Antonio partnered with American Campus Communities, the operators of Esperanza Hall, to find the best way to approach the situation.
“We looked at their safety protocols, we looked at their signage, and we were able to blend a lot of those things and expectations that we had for safety with what they also had,” Fuentes-Martin said.
Education freshman Paige Borenheim started living in the dorms at the beginning of the fall 2020 semester and is witnessing the effects of COVID-19 on Esperanza Hall firsthand. Masks are needed on short trips outside rooms and visitors aren’t allowed; doorknobs and handrails are cleaned systematically and elevators have limited capacity.
While Borenheim has a roommate, she says most dorm residents don’t because many potential residents canceled their plans to move in.
“I know a lot of people who have no one to hang out with or they’re kind of just actually isolated with no one,” Borenheim said.
Along with these changes comes the monthly COVID-19 testing requirement.
“I have mixed feelings on it because obviously it takes a lot out of your day to go get tested,” Borenheim said. “I got tested a week ago, and they sent us an email the day before we had to get tested like, ‘by the way, you have to get tested every month.’ So there was a long line of 30-plus people in the hot sun for an hour plus.”
Borenheim says she now has conflicting feelings about how the process is currently being handled.
“I do like it,” Borenheim said. ”I know they’re trying to make sure no one’s contracting the virus or anything but at the same time it’s kind of like, I wish there was a better way to go on with it.”
Fuentes-Martin said she wants students to know that A&M–San Antonio is adapting and that the university has services to help deal with COVID-19 which can be found at https://www.tamusa.edu/community-safety-together/index.html
“If you need a laptop, or if you need Wi-Fi…The library’s open, advising is open, you know, so we’re here to help students,” Fuentes-Martin said. “We don’t want you all to think that we’re invisibly not here. We are here.”
This story was updated at 5:49 p.m. Sept. 11 to correct “Stamp” to “STAAMP Allergy” and to explain that Curative Inc. provides confidential results.
This story was originally published by San Antonio Report and can be found here.
Dr. Erika Gonzalez is a mother and a military veteran, a community leader on the rise, a practitioner in and owner of an allergy practice with three locations in San Antonio.
But the coronavirus outbreak has proved unsparing and, on Wednesday, Gonzalez will join her two sisters in reciting the rosary before laying to rest their mother, Laura Gonzalez, who died Aug. 13 from complications of COVID-19. She was 69.
Her death came despite the precautions she took to keep from contracting the virus and efforts by her physician daughter, her family, and the doctors to save her. Having connections to the medical community and knowledge of the health care system were not enough.
“You can bet that we did everything we could, no stone left unturned, no connection that I didn’t try to use,” Gonzalez said. “We were powerless.”
Now Gonzalez is keeping a watchful eye on her 80-year-old father, Heriberto, who is still hospitalized with the virus but appears to be recovering.
The couple fell ill within days of one another in mid-July. Unlike many victims of the virus, Laura’s symptoms did not include fever, a cough, body aches, or shortness of breath – the most common signs of coronavirus.
Only when she couldn’t eat due to persistent nausea and vomiting – and Laura’s daughters worried their mother could become dehydrated – was she diagnosed and hospitalized. By then, her blood oxygen levels were dangerously low even though she was not complaining of shortness of breath. Heriberto’s hospitalization followed a day later.
Within the week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added nausea and vomiting to the list of coronavirus symptoms, Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez describes Laura as the strongest woman she knows. As a young wife and mother who learned English watching daytime TV, Laura returned briefly to her home in Mexico to attend dental school, then rejoined her husband in the U.S. and started her own practice in a border town.
“I have great memories of going to work with my mom,” Gonzalez said of those years in which the seeds of her own medical career were planted.
But Laura was also devoted to her son with special needs and other medical conditions who required extra care and attention. “Not until I became a mom did I fully realize how hard that must have been to take care of a child with special needs and three other young girls and own a small business,” Gonzalez said. “It’s unbelievable to me, honestly.”
In Laura’s later years, following retirement and the death of their son, she took advantage of every day, especially to travel, Gonzalez said. “She lived it to the fullest and never let anything slow her down.”
But when the coronavirus outbreak began in March, Laura and Heriberto sheltered at home, only venturing out to the grocery store. Gonzalez doesn’t know how her parents contracted the virus.
Laura’s first coronavirus test came back negative but it soon became obvious she needed to be hospitalized.
“Like any other family, my two sisters and I were doing our best to advocate for my parents,” Gonzalez said. “We were in touch with all their physicians either because we knew them personally or knew someone who knew them.”
After her mother was intubated and put on a ventilator, the sisters decided to transfer the couple from a private hospital to Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC). They hoped Laura could receive extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) treatment at BAMC, one of only two local hospitals equipped for such care.
The hospital was also a familiar place for them. Gonzalez had done her fellowship training at BAMC and her sister would soon be working there as a specialty surgeon. It felt like home, she said, and Heriberto, as a veteran and one of the first physician assistants to be trained in the Air Force, and his wife were eligible to receive treatment at BAMC.
“It turned out to be one of the best things we did for them,” she said, though Laura’s condition deteriorated before she was able to receive ECMO treatment.
But as her mother faded, the hospital allowed Gonzalez the chance to be with her mom in her final hours – an opportunity she doesn’t take for granted, since many family members have not been permitted to be present as their loved ones died.
A former military physician and now community leader as chairwoman of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Gonzalez hopes she can help military medical facilities pioneer a solution that allows families like hers to be with their loved ones dying of the virus. “Because we all know that if we’re taking proper precautions that the risk is a lot lower, and I think in situations like that it will just prevent a lot of mental anguish that some of these families go through,” she said.
The pandemic also accelerated her plans for a nonprofit she founded in April. Months before her own parents fell ill, she established Con Corazón San Antonio, an organization that will work to address health inequity and emergency preparedness in underprivileged communities.
Due to the pandemic, the first initiative of Con Corazón is raising awareness about the importance of donating convalescent plasma to help others recover from illnesses such as COVID-19. While her mother was able to receive plasma therapy, Gonzalez believes it could have improved her chances if she’d had it sooner.
“We’re hoping to turn a very tragic moment in my personal life into hopefully seeing some good come out of it and maybe helping somebody else or another family down the road,” she said.
Gonzalez said she chose to serve as the Hispanic chamber’s chairwoman this year to use her voice to support the small business community, especially in health care.
“Never in my mind did I ever imagine that it would take on a whole different meaning with this pandemic,” she said.
But her platform is now more personal than ever. Despite her grief, she is speaking out now in the hopes she can influence how the community responds to the public health crisis.
“People might think that somebody in my position, whether it’s because I’m a doctor, or whether it’s because I’m the chair of the chamber … I can make it better by my knowledge or connections or whatever,” she said. But in this case, she was powerless to change the outcome for her own mother.
When Gonzalez saw her mother’s perplexing symptoms worsen, she said she felt as bewildered and fearful of the virus as the rest of the medical community.
“How does a virus do what I’m seeing?” she said she thought to herself. “It was a very sobering realization.”
The alarming surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations in San Antonio — where at least one in four new patients has the disease — is growing at a faster rate than in other major Texas cities.
For the last week, the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the trauma-care region that includes San Antonio rose by 55 percent, state health department figures show.
This story was originally published by San Antonio Report and can be found here.
In an effort to address the unique challenges small business owners and entrepreneurs have faced during the coronavirus pandemic, the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (SAHCC) is hosting a mental health webinar on Thursday to discuss stress and anxiety in the business community. The goal is to help “normalize the conversation” and empower those in need to reach out for help.
“The mental health concerns experienced by [small business owners] and entrepreneurs is something that we have seen” increase over the years, with more people dying by suicide and experiencing crises, SAHCC Chairwoman Dr. Erika Gonzalez said. “When the pandemic occurred, there were more and different mental health issues that arose as small business owners struggled to keep their doors open and people employed.”
The COVID-19 Mental Health Webinar, moderated by Rivard Report Editor and Publisher Robert Rivard, will discuss mental health challenges for small business owners, including entrepreneurs with children juggling work and home life demands, stresses and risks involved in owning a small business, and information about available resources for those needing support.
Panelists include Clarissa Aguilar, behavioral health consultant with the Center for Health Care Services, Bexar County’s mental health authority, Adriana Dyurich, a licensed counselor with UT Health San Antonio, and Dr. Ted Williams, founder of Genesis Psychiatric Center and UT Health San Antonio psychiatry professor.
Dr. Lyssa Ochoa, chair of SAHCC’s healthcare and bioscience committee, said the panelists were selected because of their mental health expertise but also their entrepreneurial experiences that “help give insight and reflection into the stresses of small business ownership.”
“How small business leaders have been handling the stress of COVID-19 is something important to talk about because mental health has quite a stigma attached to it, and at the same time, we have the least resources in San Antonio [to address it],” Ochoa said. “If a person had a previous mental health concern, it might be even worse for them now, and we need people to keep checking in on how they are being impacted.”
Ochoa said SAHCC’s health and bioscience committee had planned to spend this year creating a health and wellness program for employees of small businesses that included a strong mental health component, but “this pandemic turned everything upside down” and the focus shifted to the employers.
The committee is now dedicating that time to discussing how the anxiety and uncertainty already attached to the entrepreneurial experience is exacerbated due to coronavirus, and that it is more important than ever to reach out for help.
“As small business owners, we are used to handling stressful situations, but we are trying to make sure we put out there that despite the ability to handle stress, it’s OK if a person needs help,” Ochoa said.
The webinar will air on Zoom from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, May 28, and is open to the public free of charge. To register in advance, click here.