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Coronavirus Disease Detected In Patient Quarantined at JBSA-Lackland

A 15th case of the coronavirus disease, or COVID-19, has been confirmed in the U.S., and this time it's in San Antonio.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday the patient is among the dozens of people evacuated from Hubei Province, China, because they were "at high risk of having been exposed to this virus." The region has seen an outbreak of respiratory illness since December 2019.

On Feb. 7, they arrived at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland to begin a two-week quarantine, and at the time health officials detected no symptoms among them.

At a press conference Thursday, San Antonio Fire Department officials reported the patient was transported from Lackland in a special ambulance from the Infectious Disease Response Unit, which is not used on regular city streets.

The CDC explained that the individual is in maximum isolation at Methodist Hospital | Texsan and is in stable condition. Officials did not identify the patient. A statement from the hospital verified it was treating the individual. Upon arrival, the statement explained, the patient was "privately escorted through a secluded entrance to avoid common areas and has been isolated at all times."

Capt. Jennifer McQuiston with the CDC said the patient is in a negative pressure room. "Meaning that air does not flow out -- it only flows in," she explained, "and they are in isolation, and people who take care of that patient are in full, protective gear."

A federal marshal is posted outside the room, she said, to protect the public and also "to protect the patient in case there are people who learn they're there and are curious, so it goes both ways."

This is the first case detected in Texas. San Antonio Ron Nirenberg stressed that the risk to the San Antonio community remains low.

In a statement, he said, “The collaboration between our local, state and federal partners is working as it was designed. We will continue to work together to protect our community from exposure to the virus."

The affected individual was a solo traveler to the U.S., CDC officials reported at Thursday's press conference. They are studying the individual's travel patterns while in China.

"This patient was identified as having a fever the morning of Feb. 11," McQuiston explained. She said the established response procedures went according to plan.

"They were transported to the hospital that morning," she said. "And samples were taken and sent to CDC overnight. We received the results about 6 p.m. [Central Time] last night. So it was a little over 24 hours from the time we identified the patient with a fever and they were taken to the hospital until we got the test results back."

There is no antiviral for the virus, officials explained, but the CDC and other health officials can offer supportive care for patients, who may also develop pneumonia.

Credit National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)

They said the remaining people in the Lackland quarantine are in good spirits. McQuiston reported that they are mostly keeping to themselves and not associating much with each other.

"Some of them are taking classes," she said. "They might be university students back at Wuhan, and they're still trying to learn. They might still be working remotely. So they're trying to carry on life as they can behind the fence, as we call it."

They "all have American connections," CDC officials explained, but there are some language barriers. However, translators are kept on site. CDC officials keep them updated on a regular basis.

Their quarantine is scheduled to end on Feb. 20.

However, McQuiston cautioned, "there may be additional cases that we identify. I do want to prepare you for that. We're still within the potential incubation period for coronavirus. ... We continue to monitor these passengers every day, twice a day, with temperature checks. We're looking at symptoms. The moment we suspect anyone might have coronavirus, with their symptoms, we will immediately ... send them to the health centers that will be able to care for them properly."

John Hellerstedt, the head of the Texas Department of State Health Services, said the coordinated health effort is working well. He reassured the public that the situation was manageable.

"It's a virus. It's in a family of many other similar viruses," he said. "And the kinds of things that we've been telling you all do to to protect yourself against the flu will work in this circumstance."

General preventative measures anyone may take to keep from getting sick include regular handwashing, covering your mouth when you cough, staying home if you're feeling ill and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces.

San Antonio Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro was pleased with how the CDC and other health agencies have responded. "I've been confident in their work so far," he said during his own Thursday press conference.

He said the local government should be reimbursed for any expenses related to the quarantine and the infection case.

The latest case came only days after Texas, among other states, reported that COVID-19 test kits from the CDC were faulty.

State and local labs tested the kits before using them. DSHS spokesperson Chris Van Deusen said their tests failed.

"There are three viral markers when we run these tests," he said, "and one that should have some back negative was showing positive."

CDC determined the source of the problem and is sending the fix to all the labs that need it.

But despite this setback, Van Deusen expected the state lab to be able to run diagnostic tests of its own within a couple of weeks.

More information about the coronavirus disease is available at the CDC’s Novel Coronavirus 2019 website. Updates for Bexar County residents are available from Metro Health here.

This is a developing story. More details coming soon.

Bonnie Petrie can be reached at Bonnie@TPR.org and on Twitter at @kbonniepetrie.
Carson Frame can be reached at Carson@TPR.org and on Twitter at @carson_frame.
Norma Martinez can be reached at Norma@TPR.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1.
Dominic Anthony, Joey Palacios and Fernando Ortiz Jr. contributed to this report.