CDC official Jennifer McQuiston addresses the media after confirming a case of coronavirus at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention along with local and state health officials announced at a press conference on Tuesday morning that a case of coronavirus has been confirmed at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.

The local diagnosis is the 15th in the U.S., and comes in the middle of a 14-day mandatory quarantine required of all who returned to the U.S. from China’s Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak that has claimed the lives of at least 1,114 people.

Jennifer McQuiston, deputy director of the division of high-consequence pathogens and pathology at the CDC, said the person started running a fever on Tuesday morning, and was transported to an undisclosed hospital to receive medical care. A patient specimen kit was immediately sent to the CDC for testing, and results confirming coronavirus were relayed at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, McQuiston said.

The person who contracted the virus was a solo traveler. No other details about the person who contracted the virus, or the hospital treating the patient, were disclosed.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg said that while the case is understandably concerning to the local community, “the risk to the public remains low.”

“This is the only patient with symptoms [so far], and the public health response to dealing with this patient has been going exactly as planned,” Nirenberg said. “The person remains in maximum isolation in a local hospital” after being transported in a dedicated ambulance

The person is currently being housed in a negative pressure room where no air can get out, and could remain in isolation for more than two weeks depending on the progression of symptoms, which can include fever, coughing, and shortness of breath.

None of the other 90 evacuees quarantined at Joint Base Lackland-San Antonio have exhibited any symptoms and, if they continue to remain symptom-free, are set to be released from the quarantine on Feb. 20.

All evacuees have ties to the U.S., whether through a family member or a learning institution where they may be an employee or student.

“I think it’s important to have empathy for people caught in China and should be in America, and people should think about what it would be like if a loved one was [in the same position],” McQuiston said. “We are Americans. We bring people home and care for them – that’s what lies at the heart of this mission.”

The situation in China is so dire that many people who should be seeking medical care are instead avoiding hospitals and medical facilities for fear of contracting the virus, she said. Those brought to Joint Base Lackland-San Antonio are arriving and receiving “the great medical care that San Antonio has to offer, which could save their life.”

The San Antonio Metropolitan Health District will continue to work with the Texas Department of State Health Services and the CDC to monitor the person with confirmed coronavirus as well as any people who may return to San Antonio following the two-week quarantine.

“There may be additional cases identified,” she said. “I do want to prepare [the public] for that. But we will continue to monitor patients every day twice a day for symptoms, and the minute we think they may have coronavirus, we will keep them in isolation through the course of their treatment.”


Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.