SAN ANTONIO – The chorus of local officials calling for coronavirus evacuees to stay on a military base instead of being transported to local hospitals is growing.
After Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg made formal requests to the Department of Defense last week, asking them to change policy so coronavirus evacuees are tested on base, Nirenberg and Wolff wrote a letter together reiterating that stance on Tuesday.
Although only six evacuees have required hospital care, they wrote in the letter addressed to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, “more than 18 individuals have been transported off the base and have been held either at local hospitals or the Texas Center for Infectious Disease for days.”
They said “filled valuable beds with patients who could appropriately be managed in isolation at JBSA-Lackland.”
Last week, Nirenberg told reporters that they have already been in discussion with federal authorities about the issue.
“The city initiated discussions with our federal partners to test and monitor travelers exclusively at Lackland Air Force Base and to keep travelers at Lackland until the test results from the CDC are confirmed,” Nirenberg previously said in a press conference.
“The more we can keep activity at Lackland, the better,” Nirenberg said.
Currently, a total of 145 people remain quarantined at Lackland.
So far, there are six confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in San Antonio. All of them are receiving treatment at TCID.
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff also wrote a letter about the issue.
Wolff penned the request to Congressman Chip Roy, a first-term Republican who represents Congressional District 21, including a large portion of Bexar County.
Wolff asked Roy to reach out to the DOD, which is working with the Department of Health and Human Services and State Department to provide support in dealing with the coronavirus outbreak, to change the procedure.
In the letter, Wolff wrote that “local hospitals in San Antonio have been asked to evaluate, and in some cases, admit evacuees who may have minor symptoms even if they do not meet the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)'s recommended criteria for a Patient Under Investigation.”
“This requirement ... results in the unnecessary transport of evacuees to other parts of our community, placing healthcare staff and potentially other residents at increased risk of exposure,” Wolff wrote.
Rather than transporting the prospective patients to local hospitals, Wolff proposed that health care personnel at the base collect test samples “under the protective and safe custody of the federal quarantine.”
The county judge worries that the current procedure may potentially expose “a larger number of U.S. citizens to infection or (risk) local transmission of this emerging infection.”
Wolff also wrote that Commissioner Tommy Calvert would help coordinate the use of Xenex robots to disinfect surfaces at the base if needed. The robots use ultraviolet light to kill pathogens.
Calvert wrote his own letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper saying that the current protocol is “in conflict with best practices of the Center for Disease Control.”
Calvert also expressed concerns that the robots donated to the base are not currently being used to disinfect dorms, “which will one day soon have airmen from around the world.”
In response to the concerns, Roy wrote a letter to the DOD and HHS regarding the federal government’s response to the coronavirus. He has requested that both departments respond to his questions by March 3.
Public officials have maintained that the risk to the public remains low.