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Officials: Coronavirus patient returned to isolation after visiting North Star Mall, checking into hotel near SA airport

Exposure risk remains low, officials stress

SAN ANTONIO – A coronavirus patient who was treated in San Antonio after evacuating Wuhan, China, was released Saturday by federal health officials after they believed she was clear of the new virus. But officials said Monday that she was returned to isolation following a “weakly” positive coronavirus test, and while she was out of treatment for about 12 hours, she visited a local mall and hotel.

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Officials said the woman met the criteria for release after testing negative for the virus twice. Both of the tests were administered more than 24 hours apart, but a separate lab test that was pending when she was released revealed a positive test result.

The woman was among the first confirmed cases of coronavirus in Texas and the only infected evacuee in the first cohort of about 100 evacuees flown into JBSA-Lackland in early February from Wuhan, China, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said.

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While the woman was in the community on Saturday, she checked into a hotel near the San Antonio International Airport and spent approximately two hours at North Star Mall, Metro Health Assistant Director Dr. Anita Kurian said Monday.

Mall and hotel officials were notified of the exposure and a deep cleaning is recommended for both sites.

Still, officials believe the risk of exposure to the general public remains low.

City officials released a timeline of the patient’s activities while she was out in the community:

  • 2:53 p.m. (Saturday) – Patient was dropped off at the Holiday Inn Express Airport at 91 NE Loop 410 by a third-party driver. The patient entered the room at 3:11 p.m.
  • 5:13 p.m. – Patient returned to the hotel lobby and requested a shuttle. The patient was picked up at 5:23 p.m. by a hotel shuttle driver.
  • 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. – Patient visited North Star Mall, including Dillard’s, Talbot’s and Swarovski. Patient went to the food court, ordered food from a Chinese restaurant and ate alone in the food court area. Patient was not in close contact with anyone at the mall.
  • 7:30 p.m. – Patient returned to hotel on the hotel shuttle.
  • 7:35 p.m. – Patient reentered room.
  • 2:00 a.m. (Sunday) – Patient was transported back to Texas Center for Infectious Disease (TCID) in a specialized ambulance. All medical professionals on board wore personal protective equipment. Metro Health is in the process of contacting individuals who may have come in contact with the patient to notify them of the potential risk of exposure. All individuals who came in contact with patient at the hotel and mall are considered to be of low risk of exposure, and only two of the 18 people who came in contact with the patient at the TCID hospital are considered medium risk.

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“The investigation has revealed generally encouraging news considering the circumstances,” Nirenberg said.

Every person the patient may have come into contact were deemed “low risk” of getting the virus, Kurian said, with the exception of two healthcare workers.

The woman spent most of her time at the mall eating at food court by herself, Kurian said.

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Nirenberg called the patient’s release “unacceptable."

City officials are discussing ways to update the current protocol set by federal officials to ensure those who remain in quarantine pose no threat to the community when they are released.

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