By SAMI SPARBER and CARRINGTON TATUM
The Texas Tribune
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg on Monday declared a public health emergency over the new coronavirus and demanded that 120 people who were expected to be released from a two-week quarantine at the Lackland Airforce Base be held longer for additional medical testing. He also banned quarantine evacuees from entering his city after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Saturday released a person who was later found to have a “weakly positive” test result for COVID-19.
“Pursuant to the statutory authority …, I, Mayor Ron Nirenberg, declare that ingress into and travel through the City of San Antonio from Lackland by those persons that have been quarantined in the facility is not permitted,” Nirenberg wrote in the declaration of public health emergency. “No previously quarantined person shall be permitted to enter the City of San Antonio until further notice.”
As of Monday afternoon, the CDC had not yet informed Nirenberg whether the evacuees will be released from Lackland despite his calls to extend the quarantine, a spokesperson for Bexar County told The Texas Tribune. The evacuees’ release from Lackland Air Force Base had been put on hold as of Monday afternoon, one quarantined person told the San Antonio-Express News.
The base is one of four military bases where the federal government has been sending patients who were possibly exposed to the virus in Wuhan, China, and a cruise ship in Japan.
“Local health professionals in whom I have the utmost confidence are working very hard to prevent the spread of this virus here in San Antonio, and we simply cannot have a screw up like this from our federal partners,” Nirenberg said at a press conference Monday morning.
“As a result of this, I strongly believe that all the individuals who were scheduled to be released from the 14-day quarantine today should be re-tested and kept in quarantine until the results confirm that they are negative for the coronavirus. We’re working with our state and federal partners to achieve that result. And I will do everything within my power to make sure that that happens.”
During the press conference, Anita K. Kurian, assistant director of San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, said the patient who was released was “in the community” for about 12 hours and that the agency has identified and contacted every place the patient could have visited.
“We’ve completed a risk assessment and I can say pretty much everybody has been deemed to be low risk except for a few selected health care personnel who were directly in contact with her at the time of her release,” she said.
By press time, 18 people had been identified as coming in contact with the patient – 16 are considered at low risk for exposure, while two are considered at medium risk, according to San Antonio Metro Health officials.
The patient was dropped off Saturday afternoon at the Holiday Inn Express Airport at 91 NE Loop 410 by a third-party driver, according to Metro Health. The patient entered their room then later returned to the hotel lobby and requested a shuttle to North Star Mall, where they visited Dillard’s, Talbot’s and Swarovski.
The person mostly sat by themselves in the mall’s food court and the risk of exposure at both locations is low. Still, health officials requested a “deep cleaning” of the mall, according to Kurian.
A spokesperson for Brookfield Properties, which owns the mall, said they were notified Monday morning about the situation and planned to close North Star for about 24 hours.
“While the shopping center had been cleaned several times using CDC-recommended products, as an abundance of caution, we made the decision to close North Star Mall temporarily to allow for a further deep cleaning of the center,” Lindsay Kahn said in a statement. “We want to reiterate that there is a low risk to the public, but we are taking extra precautions for the well-being of our shopping center community.”
After returning to the hotel on the shuttle at 7:30 p.m., the patient reentered their room. At 2:00 a.m. Sunday, the patient was transported back to Texas Center for Infectious Disease in a specialized ambulance, according to Metro Health.
“It was quite a frustration Sunday all day long, trying to get the CDC to say what happened,” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said at Monday’s press conference.
On Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott demanded that the CDC halt the scheduled release of the cruise ship evacuees and perform an additional test for the virus going forward.
“What happened in San Antonio and what the CDC did is completely unacceptable,” Abbott said at a press conference. “It appears to be a case of negligence with regard to allowing this person who had the coronavirus to leave the Texas Center for Infectious Diseases and go back into the general population.
“The protocol before now has been … if there were two consecutive negative tests, meaning that the person was showing no suggestion of having coronavirus, they would be subject to being released. That was one of the mistakes here, because what happened here, there was a third test that was conducted on the woman who was released, she was released before the test results came back, that third test showed that she in fact did have the coronavirus, and so our demand in here is that going forward, the CDC will do three tests as opposed to two.”
Abbott’s office said the state made its requests in a letter sent to the CDC by John Hellerstedt, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services. At the same time, Abbott said he had a conversation with Vice President Mike Pence, who is overseeing the coronavirus response for the White House, and that his office has had multiple discussions with federal staff.
Currently, there are 11 people remaining at TCID who have tested positive for “very mild cases of the coronavirus,” Abbott said. No one in Texas has tested positive for the virus outside the quarantine.
Juan Pablo Garnham/The Texas Tribune contributed to this report.
“San Antonio mayor demands extension of coronavirus quarantine, bans evacuees from entering city” was first published at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/03/02/texas-gov-greg-abbott-asks-cdc-fix-coronavirus-quarantine-protocols/ by The Texas Tribune. The Texas Tribune is proud to celebrate 10 years of exceptional journalism for an exceptional state.