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San Antonio declares emergency after CDC released a woman infected with coronavirus: ‘Totally unacceptable’

Travelers wearing masks arrive on a direct flight from China, after a spokesman from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said a traveller from China had been the first person in the United States to be diagnosed with the Wuhan coronavirus, at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in SeaTac, Washington, January 23, 2020.

David Ryder | Reuters

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg declared a public health emergency Monday after the federal government released a woman from quarantine who tested positive for COVID-19, San Antonio officials confirmed to CNBC.

The woman was among the 91 Americans evacuated from Wuhan and placed in federal, 14-day quarantine at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. The woman tested negative twice for the new coronavirus and was released Saturday under guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Nirenberg said Monday.

Representatives from San Antonio declined to comment on the nature of the emergency declaration or how long it will last. 

“Unfortunately after the person’s release, the CDC received the results of another test that showed a weakly positive confirmation of the virus that causes COVID-19,” Nirenberg said at a news briefing earlier Monday. “As mayor of this city, I find it totally unacceptable that CDC would release a patient prior to receiving all test results and potentially expose the public to this harm.”

The woman was released from quarantine on Saturday and arrived at the Holiday Inn Express Airport before 3 p.m., according to a press release from San Antonio Metro Health. The woman also visited North Star Mall, where she browsed stores, including Dillard’s, Talbot’s and Swarovski and ate at the food court, according to the press release.

The woman was transported to Texas Center for Infectious Disease at 2 a.m., according to the spokeswoman. Local officials are tracking 16 people from the mall and three at the hotel who they believe came into contact with the woman, said Dr. Anita Kurian, assistant director of communicable diseases at the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District.

The city health department has recommended deep cleanings “with disinfectants” to both the hotel and mall, according to the spokeswoman.

“We simply cannot have a screw-up like this from our federal partners,” Nirenberg said. “While the CDC is encouraging everyone to wash their hands and prevent the spread of the virus, as we would during the season, I would encourage the federal administration to not wash its hands of the responsibility to protect the public.”

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said there 235 people under quarantine at Lackland. San Antonio is in Bexar County. The remaining people in quarantine were evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which was quarantined last month off the coast of Japan. Those evacuees were scheduled to be released Monday, but local officials have requested a third round of testing before giving them the all clear.

Representatives from San Antonio declined to comment on how the emergency declaration will impact the quarantined individuals at Lackland.

“The CDC’s plan was to release those who had gotten to the end of their quarantine today,” Nirenberg said. “We need assurances from CDC that they pose no additional risk to the public. And we’re going to do everything we can within our authority to make sure no one is released until we have that assurance.”

The news comes after Washington state, New York and California officials confirmed new cases over the weekend. Public health officials in Seattle reported the nation’s first two deaths and several new cases Saturday and Sunday, adding that 50 residents and employees of a nursing care facility were being tested for the new coronavirus after several people there tested positive for COVID-19. New York confirmed its first case of the virus on Sunday.