San Antonio Officials Declare Emergency After COVID-19 Quarantine Hiccup

March 4, 2020

The top two governing officials of the San Antonio area on Monday blocked the release of quarantined cruise ship evacuees, declaring a public health emergency after a woman allowed to leave quarantine later tested positive for the new coronavirus.

Declarations by Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff of a local state of disaster and public safety emergency effectively puts the more than 120 passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in limbo, unaware of how long they will be held in seclusion at Lackland Air Force Base to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.

Nirenberg and Wolff, the county’s top elected official, also said all passengers must test negative for the virus three times before they can be released.

The woman who sparked the alarm tested positive for the illness last month after she was evacuated from Wuhan, China, but was released from quarantine Saturday following two negative tests, officials said. After the woman’s release, health officials learned that a third lab test came back “weakly positive.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that she was asymptomatic at the time of her release and met all criteria for release, and that she was returned to quarantine after the new positive test was discovered.

She was out of quarantine for about 12 hours, during which time she went to a hotel and a shopping mall, said Dr. Anita Kurian, assistant director of San Antonio Metropolitan Health Department.

Kurian said officials consider the exposure risk for people at the mall and hotel to be low, noting that the woman spent much of her time sitting alone at the North Star Mall’s food court. Two people who encountered her at the hospital are at a medium risk, she said.

The mall was closed Monday afternoon and was expected to remain closed until Tuesday afternoon.

Nirenberg said Monday that it was “totally unacceptable” that the woman was released from quarantine.

“We simply cannot have a screw-up like this from our federal partners,” he said.

The CDC said Sunday night that it was dealing with “an unfolding situation with many unknowns.

“CDC is making decisions on a case-by-case basis using the best available science at the time,” the agency said in a statement. “CDC’s priority is to protect both patients and communities.”

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