(From left) Michael Ugarte, presiding magistrate, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, Director of Judicial Services Mike Lozito, and Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar speak before the media tour of Bexar County’s Justice Intake Center.
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Expressing concern for local residents, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff has requested that novel coronavirus patients who exhibit symptoms of coronavirus remain at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, which would reverse current federal protocol requiring them to be transported to area hospitals for evaluation.

In a letter sent to U.S. Rep. Chip Roy (R-Austin) on Tuesday, Wolff wrote that admitting evacuees with minor symptoms to area hospitals is unnecessary and places hospital staff and local residents at risk.

“With the federal medical assets staffed by the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] currently located at Lackland Air Force Base, there is sufficient and appropriate personnel to collect test samples on these individuals on base while continuing to monitor their care under the protective and safe custody of the federal quarantine,” Wolff stated in the letter, noting that some hospitals have been asked to evaluate and, in some cases, admit patients who do not meet the CDC requirements to be under investigation.

The concern comes as 151 evacuees from a coronavirus-stricken cruise ship in Japan landed at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland on Monday, with 144 remaining in San Antonio to be held under a 14-day quarantine. The seven who did not remain tested positive for coronavirus and were sent to the University of Nebraska Medical Center for treatment, senior State Department officials said Monday.

Planes carrying 91 evacuees from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the growing coronavirus outbreak, arrived in San Antonio on Feb. 6 for a mandatory quarantine. One of the passengers tested positive for coronavirus, the 15th confirmed case in the U.S., and was sent for treatment at Methodist Texsan Hospital.

Wolff asked Roy to reach out to the U.S. Department of Defense to ask for an update to current quarantine procedures so that those being held at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland remain under supervision at the Air Force base and only ask local hospitals to care for evacuees who “truly require hospital-level care.”

It was unclear as of publication whether the request would be accepted. Calls to Roy’s congressional offices were not returned Tuesday. CDC officials also were not available for comment Tuesday.

Clinical evidence known to date about this novel strain of coronavirus “supports a process which ensures that symptomatic individuals are evaluated on site rather than potentially exposing a larger number of U.S. citizens to infection or risking local transmission of this emerging infection,” Wolff wrote.

More than 73,000 cases of the novel coronavirus have been diagnosed globally, resulting in 1,870 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.

Wolff wrote that while “all of the local health systems in Bexar County are committed to caring for any of these evacuees that truly require hospital-level care,” the requirement established by the U.S. Department of Defense to admit patients with minor symptoms puts a larger number of people at risk of exposure than necessary given CDC involvement.

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