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San Antonio Metro Health: Ready For New Coronavirus Evacuees But Not Sure About Fiesta

Texas Public Radio

San Antonio awaited the arrival of dozens of California cruise ship passengers to begin a two-week quarantine at Lackland Air Force Base, and worries continued to swirl around the fate of Fiesta.

San Antonio Metro Health Director Dawn Emerick told TPR's "The Source" that the city was ready for for the evacuees. It would be the third group brought to San Antonio since early February.

“The outbreak on the ship was not as bad as the Diamond Princess, so we’re going to plan like we’ve been planning and do like we’ve been doing," she said, referring to the cruise ship docked near Tokyo, Japan. "But because we’ve had two cohorts in the past, I think we have this down pretty well.”

Emerick stressed that none of the Grand Princess evacuees coming to San Antonio had symptoms of any illness. They'll be monitored during their stay.

Those in the first two groups who became sick or tested positive for COVID-19 -- but were not sick enough to be taken to the hospital -- were transferred to Texas Center of Infectious Disease for care in isolation.

But the county's confidence may not have resonated with the Air Force. The San Antonio Express-News reported Tuesday that the Air Force would suspend family gatherings at basic training graduations.

According to the story, the decision had been made but had not yet been officially announced.

Graduations take place weekly on base. The change would likely affect between 1,000 and 3,000 people who usually attend the ceremonies.

The Navy made a similar decision this week, barring families from attending the graduation of new recruits in Great Lakes, Illinois. Would-be guests were told they could view the ceremony via Facebook livestream instead.

Fiesta 2020

When asked if Fiesta will go on, Emerick admitted officials just don’t know yet. She said all upcoming events were assessed on a case by case basis, and there were several factors at play.

“You have to look at the entire environment," she said. "You have to look at the event itself. How big is the event? Where is it going to be held? Is it indoor? Is it outdoor? So all of those things are going to be taken into consideration.”

COVID-19 tests are finally showing up at local and state health departments, and Emerick said the information her team gathers from those tests may help the city decide what to do about Fiesta.

“All the things my smart staff do," she added, "we just don’t have that data. So I do think, over the next several weeks, we could have some data to make those determinations.”

Emerick said she, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, and everyone who worked in emergency preparedness spoke every day about whether it would be safe to welcome hundreds of thousands of people to the city, but there was no one thing that will trigger a decision.

Fiesta draws hundreds of thousands of people to San Antonio for more than 100 events over a ten day period. This year’s festival is scheduled to begin on April 16th.

Bexar County preparations

Metro Health officials also updated the Bexar County Commissioners Court on Tuesday. They said no cases of coronavirus have been reported in San Antonio or in the county.

They said coronavirus tests would be free for members of the public. But the tests are expensive, so the flu would have to be ruled out first and a primary care doctor would have to recommend it.

Metro Health said if someone becomes sick, they would display symptoms similar to the flu, except without a runny nose. They added that if a local outbreak did occur, residents would have to self-quarantine at home.

Officials reported that the local health system has 70 hospitals, 7,000 beds and 1,000 ICU beds to handle any significant medical event.

Officials reiterated that the best practices for the public were frequent handwashing and regular use of hand sanitizers. Metro Health has also printed about 2,000 posters in English and Spanish explaining and displaying effective handwashing techniques.

Credit Brian Kirkpatrick | Texas Public Radio

Members of the public with questions about the coronavirus may call the city hotline at 210-207-5779. They may also visit the county's dedicated COVID-19 website.

Blood donations

On Tuesday, the South Texas Blood and Tissue Center announced that it would ask all donors to disclose travel to countries where COVID-19 has been widespread.

Potential donors who traveled to those countries would be asked to delay their donations for 28 days.

Respiratory viruses are not known to be transmitted by blood donation or transfusion. Nevertheless, the donation center said it was enforcing the new measures out of an abundance of caution.

Caution at H-E-B

Also on Tuesday, H-E-B said it would reduce its presence at large gatherings to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The grocery chain said in a statement that it has also eliminated domestic and international business-related air travel for H-E-B partners.

H-E-B has implemented limits on items at their stores, like hand sanitizers, in order to protect the supply chain.

Workers are also sanitizing stores and hard surfaces at a higher frequency to create a safer shopping experience. Hand sanitizers are available throughout stores for shoppers, along with basket wipes at store entrances.

Other precautions

The developments followed recent announcements from several San Antonio area colleges that students travelling to CODVID-19 hotspots around the world may be quarantined when they return.

Also, the South Texas Veterans Health Care System announced that anyone entering certain units would be screened for the coronavirus.

National and international counts

In the U.S., the CDC has reported almost 650 cases and more than two dozen deaths throughout 35 states and the District of Columbia.

The World Health Organization, or WHO, has reported almost 115,000 cases and more than 4,000 deaths throughout more than 100 nations.

For people who may wonder if snow, UV light, garlic or hand dryers can kill the coronavirus, or if mosquitoes can transmit it through bites, or if pets can spread the virus, the WHO addressed those and several other myths or misunderstandings with a special website.

Bonnie Petrie can be reached at Bonnie@TPR.org and on Twitter at @kbonniepetrie.
Brian Kirkpatrick can be reached at Brian@TPR.org and on Twitter at @TPRBrian.
Lauren Terrazas, Norma Martinez, Camille Phillips and Fernando Ortiz Jr. contributed to this report.