One Year Later: Coronavirus evacuee returned to isolation after visiting North Star Mall

Positive test led San Antonio mall to shut down for deep cleaning

North Star Mall reopens after infected coronavirus evacuee visited shopping center
North Star Mall reopens after infected coronavirus evacuee visited shopping center

SAN ANTONIOEditor’s note: This story is a look back at some of the biggest developments of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. See a full timeline here.

On March 2, 2020, North Star Mall closed its doors for 24 hours for a deep cleaning after a potential exposure to COVID-19 from a coronavirus evacuee who had visited a few stores before she was notified of a positive test result and returned to isolation.

The visit set off a panic around the city. It was the first time San Antonio residents were made aware of a potential exposure to the virus in a public setting, long before the pandemic was in full effect.

The woman, who was evacuated from Wuhan, China was among the first known cases in Texas and the only infected evacuee in the first cohort of roughly 100 evacuees who were quarantined at JBSA-Lackland.

After recovering from the illness and testing negative for the virus twice, officials released the woman, who checked into a San Antonio hotel and visited North Star Mall the day before her flight back home.

In all, the woman was out of isolation for 12 hours before she was rushed back following a “weakly” positive test result that was pending at the time of her release.

Officials released a detailed timeline of the woman’s activities while she was in public, and out of an abundance of caution, the mall was closed so crews could disinfect the shopping center.

In an effort to inspire confidence after the potential exposure, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg visited the mall and ate lunch there, too.

Had a great lunch at North Star Mall! Thank you for being so welcoming to my office. I can already tell it's going to be a busy Spring Break.

Posted by Mayor Ron Nirenberg on Thursday, March 5, 2020

Though the exposure was deemed low-risk, the fiasco raised questions about how federal officials were handling the people quarantined at the base.

It was later discovered that CDC officials had planned to drop off more out-of-quarantine cruise ship passengers at the mall.

City officials filed a lawsuit to stop the release of quarantined patients. Though they lost in court, federal officials changed plans, dropping people off directly at the airport or a rental car facility.

In the coming weeks, Nirenberg would issue “Stay Home, Work Safe” emergency orders as cases began to spread throughout the San Antonio community and the rest of the country.

Read more:

Timeline: Every major COVID-19 development in San Antonio since the start of the pandemic

Your COVID-19 vaccine questions answered with University Health’s Dr. Jason Bowling

How to register for the COVID-19 vaccine in San Antonio when appointments are available


About the Author:

Fares Sabawi has been a journalist in San Antonio for four years. He has covered several topics, but specializes in crime, courts, open records and data visualization.