SAN ANTONIO – Officials on Friday said two people among the evacuees from the Diamond Princess cruise ship who arrived at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland on Monday have tested positive for the coronavirus.
The two patients are being treated around Lackland after they tested positive by the Centers for Disease Control, Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a news conference on Friday. The two new cases were confirmed as an evacuee from Wuhan, China, tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this month. The initial patient was treated at Methodist Hospital | Texan and was released Thursday.
A San Antonio couple has remained quarantined on the base. The husband, Don, said he learned of the the new cases after a family member texted him.
“It just makes us want to be more cautious and isolated,” he said.
A total of 329 Americans were evacuated off the ship, which remains docked at a Japanese port, because they were at risk of contracting the virus. Passengers were then transported to Lackland or the Travis Air Force Base in northern California.
Messonnier said five evacuees transported to Travis tested positive, and another 11 passengers who tested positive are being treated at the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s quarantine unit in Omaha.
On Monday, the U.S. State and Health and Human Services said in a joint statement that seven positive passengers on the Lackland flight were transported to the Omaha facility.
Messonnier added more cases among Diamond Princess evacuees are expected.
“Because the passengers on the Diamond Princess were in a close setting, where there has been a significant spread of COVID-19, they are considered high risk for infections,” she said. “We do expect to see additional confirmed cases of COVID-19 among the passengers.”
Since “many” passengers are older than 60, they may require hospitalization if medical issues arise, she said.
Don said there are still eight more days of quarantine on the base. He said evacuees must be six feet apart from each other and be careful of where they place their hands.
He said he and his wife are hoping to steer clear of the virus so they can return home when the quarantine ends.
“We’re just hoping that it remains the same,” he said.
He is worried that their surroundings will change in the days ahead. Don said evacuees were notified from military officials they may be transferred to a different facility.
“There’s some of us that are not really happy about that because we are trying to minimize contact,” said Don.
KSAT reached out to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and military officials to confirm the transfer but they have not responded.
The City of San Antonio said patients will continue to be kept “in maximum level isolation,” away from the public and other evacuees.
“Our residents should know that the federally ordered quarantine is functioning as it should,” Metro Health Director Dawn Emerick said in a news release.
It is unclear where the two new patients are being treated.
Messonnier said despite the spread in China, there is no detected community spread among Americans. Community spread, she said, is when cases are detected in the public but the source is unknown.
Thursday marked the end of the 14-day quarantine for the first group of coronavirus evacuees at Lackland from China. In that group, a plane of 91 Americans touched down at Lackland.
This week, local officials called for coronavirus evacuees to stay on a military base instead of being transported to local hospitals.
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg asked the Department of Defense to conduct coronavirus tests on quarantined individuals at Lackland rather than transporting them to local hospitals.
“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 said in a press conference Wednesday.
Nirenberg said doing this will ensure “zero exposure” to the general public and to prevent reaching capacity at local hospitals.
The viral outbreak that began in China has infected more than 76,000 people globally. More than 2,200 deaths have been reported in mainland China.