A second plane carrying evacuees from the Grand Princess cruise ship in California was scheduled to land in San Antonio on Wednesday, City Manager Erik Walsh said.
About 120 passengers from the coronavirus-stricken ship will arrive at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland on the heels of a flight Tuesday night that brought 98 people to the base for a 14-day quarantine.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg said the flight will be one of several more anticipated as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to evacuate Americans from high risk environments as COVID-19 continues to spread. But in the end, only evacuees that are Texas residents will remain at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland for quarantine, and other evacuees will return to their home states.
“We are pleased that they settled on that protocol which helps limit movement and eliminate exposure to the general public. And, it’s better for the evacuees as well.”
Walsh called an emergency meeting to update City Council members on communication with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about how the evacuees will be handled and to answer questions in an effort to quell community concerns over COVID-19, which was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization as the meeting was taking place.
The San Antonio Metropolitan Health District currently has the capacity to test up to 500 people for COVID-19 in the City-run lab and has requested additional tests from the federal government, Walsh said.
The request for additional tests comes as the San Antonio Fire Department and Metro Health has fielded over 600 calls from concerned San Antonians over the last 24 hours seeking information about the virus, or called 9-1-1 out of concern they were experiencing symptoms they feared were due to the novel coronavirus.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg said that the biggest priority is to prevent and delay transmission of COVID-19 in San Antonio and Bexar County.
There are now over 1,000 COVID-19 cases and 30 deaths reported in the U.S., of which 21 are in Texas, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
“As we see community transmission increase in other parts of the U.S., our work continues to double,” Nirenberg said.
Council members asked about whether Fiesta will be canceled, but Walsh said it’s too soon to make a determination.
Councilman John Courage (D9) inquired about what would happen to evacuees at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland who are not from Texas but test positive for COVID-19 during their 14-day quarantine on base. Gov. Greg Abbott has said that federal officials have assured him that only Texans will be allowed to receive treatment at the Texas Center for Infectious Disease.
Walsh said that permission from the federal government would be needed to treat anyone at the Texas Center for Infectious Disease who is not from Texas. Others will be transferred for treatment at a separate medical facility.
CDC Spokesman Joey Smith said that Grand Princess cruise ship passengers who are residents of California were transferred to either Travis Air Force Base or Miramar Naval Air Station – both in California – and all other disembarking U.S. residents will begin mandatory quarantine at either Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland or Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Georgia until their return home is sorted out.
Of the evacuees who arrived Tuesday night, City officials were informed that 91 were Texas residents, but Nirenberg later said it wasn’t known how many of the 98 were Texans.
The City is working with the CDC to develop a protocol for treating non-Texans, hoping to ensure that all evacuee flights arrive at and depart from Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Walsh said.