Evacuees from the Diamond Princess cruise ship emerged from quarantine Tuesday and began leaving on flights out of San Antonio starting at 10 a.m.
City officials said that after pausing Monday’s scheduled release at the request of City and County officials, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention modified its release protocol and will be releasing people who were “symptom-free for a full 14-days.”
The CDC is also modifying its protocol so that no person will be released if there are any pending test results.
“I’m pleased that the CDC has made changes, and I’m comfortable that the plan as presented will minimize the risk of exposure,” San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said in a statement. “The release will be coordinated, not prolonged over several days, and passengers will not stay in local hotels and will go directly to the airport.”
The change comes after news that a woman evacuated from Wuhan, China was released on Saturday from quarantine at the Texas Center for Infectious Disease following two negative test results for the virus, but before officials had gotten the results of her third COVID-19 test, which came back “weakly positive.”
A COVID-19 test is considered weakly positive when a person tests positive for the virus in either the upper respiratory tract or lower respiratory tract; specimens from the the two tracts are taken for each test kit the CDC analyzes.
During the 12 hours the woman spent outside of quarantine, she visited North Star Mall and the Holiday Inn by the airport, before she was returned to quarantine.
Evacuees cleared to leave Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland are being transported directly to the San Antonio airport, where an airport employee will direct them straight to the ticket counters, assist with baggage, and facilitate movement through security, City officials said.
Buses will transport the more than 120 evacuees to the airport in shifts according to their flight times.
Of the group of evacuees scheduled to be released from quarantine today, some are Texas residents who requested rental cars to drive home. They are being transported with other passengers, and rental cars will be arranged at the airport.
“This is the type of expedited and coordinated departure we needed from our federal partners,” said Mayor Nirenberg.
In an effort to quell community concerns, the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District opened a COVID-19 hotline for residents to ask questions about the virus. Residents can call (210) 207-5779 Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. to access the hotline in English and Spanish.
Assistant City Manager Colleen Bridger said that the group of evacuees leaving Tuesday is the first of three. Evacuees currently at the Texas Center for Infectious Disease who meet CDC guidelines will begin to depart this week. The other group includes anyone whose quarantine was extended because they were in contact with an evacuee who later tested positive for the virus.
Asked if San Antonio can expect to receive any more coronavirus evacuees, Bridger said, “I hope not.”