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San Antonio Mayor: Only Texas Residents Will Be Quarantined At Lackland

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Nearly 100 passengers from the Grand Princess cruise ship arrived at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio Tuesday night, and more passengers were expected to land on Wednesday.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said only Texas residents who are quarantined from the ship will be housed at Lackland. He added that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will move non-Texan passengers to their own states.

He also shared updated information on the numbers of people flown from California to Texas. “We did also find out there was some correction to the numbers we were given yesterday," he explained. "There were 98 that were brought to Lackland yesterday. What we thought were 91 Texas residents -- in fact it was only 24. So there are 74 non-Texas residents. ... those folks will be moved on to their home states over the series of the next few days.”

When asked where the other evacuees would be taken to in their home states, Nirenberg said that’s a protocol that HHS would be working out.

“Every state in the nation has capacity to quarantine individuals in the case of infectious diseases,” Nirenberg said. “I’m not privy to all the details of all the other states – I know what’s happening here in San Antonio – but we’re thankful in the sense that the surge of evacuees that need to come home for proper care will be distributed so that we can take care of evacuees in a safe manner but we and also ramp up capacity in our local hospitals to ensure that we’re prepared in the event of community spread.”

The individuals will be quarantined on-base for a two week period and will be closely monitored to see if they develop any symptoms of COVID-19.

During an earlier meeting called by the City Council, City Manager Erik Walsh said the city made several requests to the federal government, including written procedures that cover testing, quarantine, transfer and release of evacuees and assurances where patients who test positive would receive care.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has said the Texas Center for Infectious Disease in San Antonio would only house Texas residents who test positive.

Credit Joey Palacios | Texas Public Radio
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg at Wednesday's emergency City Council meeting

Nirenberg told CNN on Wednesday that city health officials were working diligently to prevent the virus from reaching area residents.

Also, Lackland commanders took questions about coronavirus at a town hall on Wednesday. The meeting focused on ways to protect the health of the force.

Base commander Laura Lenderman and John DeGoes of the 59th Medical Wing answered pre-selected questions from base residents and the wider community. They said the goal was to address ongoing concerns.

City and county officials have demanded that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease test the evacuees at military medical facilities rather than off the base.

Coronavirus and area colleges

Also on Wednesday, Texas A&M University-San Antonio, the University of Texas at San Antonio and the Alamo Colleges District announced they would extend their spring breaks an extra week for students to give faculty time to move courses online.

St. Mary’s University says it plans to use the time to prepare for the possibility of moving classes online.

Trinity University said it would move all classes online for the rest of the semester.

UTSA and St. Mary’s encouraged students to stay off campus next week if possible, but say dorms remain open for students who live on campus. Trinity said it would close its dorms.

Coronavirus now a pandemic

The news came just the World Health Organization, or WHO, officially declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic.

NPR reported Wednesday that Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said his organization was "deeply concerned, both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction" by international leaders in their responses to the growing crisis.

He stressed that the public should not panic over the new designation. He added that it also did not signal that efforts to defeat the virus had ended.

Coronavirus in the Houston area

Houston, which already faces more than a dozen cases of the coronavirus, confronted new concerns over the crisis.

On Wednesday, Montgomery County, just north of Houston, reported its first presumptive positive case of COVID-19. County officials said the patient is a man in his 40s who lived in the county. The Health Department was investigating his travel history. The patient was under isolation at a local hospital.

Also, Houston officials cancelled the Houston Rodeo -- the first time in more than eight decades. The announcement came as Mayor Sylvester Turner said he planned to issue a seven-day emergency health declaration for the city of Houston. Harris County officials also planned to issue a similar declaration.

HPM reported that officials had initially resisted the idea to cancel the Rodeo. But then, as ​Turner explained, “yesterday changed things because yesterday with the case in Montgomery, that was evidence of some community spread, and as a result, that takes us to what do we do next.”

The fate of Fiesta

The concerns over the event come a week after Austin cancelled SXSW.

San Antonio officials have not yet made a decision about Fiesta, which is scheduled to begin in mid-April.

During the San Antonio City Council meeting on Wednesday, District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry asked if there was a drop dead date for a decision to shut down Fiesta or let it continue. Walsh said there was not.

Nirenberg said Fiesta is more than a month away and a decision will be made in the proper window.

“What we don’t want to do is make panicked decisions that also have exponential impact on the safety of others," he said, "so we are going to continue on a daily basis to update the health guidance and as we get a little closer to the event we’ll look at what the health authority recommends as far as keeping people safe.”

About 3 million people attend more than 100 events during the 11 days of Fiesta, which is scheduled to begin April 16th.

The latest counts and more resources

In the U.S., the CDC has reported almost 950 cases and more than two dozen deaths throughout 38 states and the District of Columbia.

Credit Brian Kirkpatrick | Texas Public Radio

The World Health Organization, or WHO, has reported more than 120,000 cases and more than 4,300 deaths throughout more than 100 nations.

For more information, John Hopkins University also developed a real-time graphic summary of pandemic here

San Antonio Metro Health has printed about 2,000 posters in English and Spanish explaining and displaying effective handwashing techniques.

Anyone 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.

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.

Lauren Terrazas can be reached at Lauren@TPR.org and on Twitter at @terrazas_lauren.
Joey Palacios can be reached at Joey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules.
Carson Frame, Camille Phillips, Steve Short, Houston Public Media and Fernando Ortiz Jr. contributed to this report.

Lauren Terrazas can be reached at lauren@tpr.org and on Twitter at @terrazas_lauren
Joey Palacios can be reached atJoey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules