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San Antonio health department can now test for the coronavirus in limited capacity

Metro Health can test up to 500 people by the end of the week if needed

SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said Monday the city needs more testing capability for the novel coronavirus, telling media Monday morning that it had received “only 75 test kits."

“I spoke with (the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) myself personally, as did Governor Abbott and several members of our federal delegation, all requesting the same thing, and that is Texas - all of our cities, but especially San Antonio - needs a heck of a lot more testing, and we’re requesting that A.S.A.P.," Nirenberg said.

The San Antonio Metropolitan Health District official overseeing the communicable disease division later clarified the department had received one kit from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which could provide testing for up to 130 people. A second kit is expected to arrive Tuesday, said Metro Health Assistant Director Anita Kurian, which would raise the testing capacity to 500 people by the end of the week.

Those testing capabilities are only for members of the local community and will be overseen by Metro Health. The CDC is responsible for all testing and treatment of evacuees on military bases, Nirenberg said.

The numbers the mayor initially provided appear to have been based on an earlier estimate from before Metro Health had completed the validation process for the test. As of late Monday morning, the city is ready to begin testing.

For now, Kurian said Metro Health would not be requesting any additional kits beyond those two.

Though about 2 million people live in Bexar County, the department will not be testing everyone - only those who meet certain criteria for symptoms and possible exposure history. The tests will also have to be ordered by a doctor, Kurian said.

“Because of the limited availability of the kits at the CDC itself, they are giving one kit per request, with the understanding that additional kits will - can be requested should there be a need,” said Kurian, who noted it has currently been taking about 48 hours to receive the kits.

The concerns over testing came as San Antonio prepared for an unknown number of Americans to arrive at JBSA Lackland for quarantine. The group from the Grand Princess cruise ship will be the third group of evacuees to be quarantined at the base.

The Grand Princess cruise ship will dock temporarily Monday afternoon in a non-passenger port in San Francisco Bay, where the evacuees will be screened by federal health officials and the CDC. After the screening, only asymptomatic passengers will be taken to the federal military installations for COVID-19 testing and a 14-day quarantine, including JBSA-Lackland in San Antonio, officials said.

WATCH LIVE: Grand Princess cruise ship to dock Monday, evacuees to head to JBSA-Lackland

People that travel to JBSA-Lackland will be from Texas or surrounding states, Nirenberg said, and they are expected to arrive here as early as Monday. The latest figure cited by officials is about 90 Texans.

Other Americans on the ship will quarantine at military bases in other parts of the country.

With Fiesta San Antonio, the city’s biggest annual festival, five weeks away, Nirenberg said that city officials are having daily meetings and “ongoing conversations” about the 10-day citywide celebration and are monitoring what other cities who have similar events are handling the situation.

“This will be an ongoing conversation every day up until the start of Fiesta,” he said.

More than 200 Americans who were evacuated from Wuhan, China, and a cruise ship in Japan in early February have gone home after completing a 14-day quarantine at JBSA-Lackland. From those groups, nine people who contracted the virus are being treated at the Texas Centers for Infectious Disease in San Antonio are stable and are waiting on test results to be released.

“Their treatment has gone very well,” Nirenberg said.

On Thursday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced that the state has the ability to test for COVID-19.

Abbott identified 10 public health labs in Texas who will be able to test for the disease. Six are currently operational while four more are expected to begin testing by the end of the month.

The labs are in Lubbock, Forth Worth, Dallas, Tyler, El Paso, Austin, Houston, San Antonio, Corpus Christi and Harlingen.

When all the labs receive the validation necessary to test for the virus, the state will be able to process more than 125 COVID-19 tests a day, Abbott said. The test consists of a nasal and oral swab.

“This new ability to provide testing in the state will shorten the time to get the test results,” Abbott said.

This is a developing story and we’ll bring more details as they become available.


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