San Antonio Mayor Declares Health Emergency Over Coronavirus, Mall Closes as Precaution

March 2, 2020 Updated: March 2, 2020

The mayor of San Antonio, Texas, issued a public health emergency over the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus and also ordered that anyone quarantined at Lackland Air Force Base be prohibited from entering the city.

At the same time, the North Star Mall announced it would close after a coronavirus-infected patient visited it over the weekend.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg made the declaration in an attempt to make sure more than 120 coronavirus evacuees who were being quarantined at the Air Force base stay there. The people under quarantine were evacuated from the Diamond Princess, a cruise ship that was held off the coast of Japan for weeks in February, by the State Department before they were transported to several military bases across the United States.

“Pursuant to the statutory authority …, I, Mayor Ron Nirenberg, declare that ingress into and travel through the City of San Antonio from Lackland by those persons that have been quarantined in the facility is not permitted. No previously quarantined person shall be permitted to enter the City of San Antonio until further notice,” he said in the declaration on Monday.

His declaration might mean that the evacuees stay in quarantine on base for another week under state law.

Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said that Texas and federal officials cannot release the remaining evacuees in quarantine at Lackland unless they can be tested again for COVID-19. At the same time, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) needs to provide a written statement before they release more people.

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Travelers wear protective mask as they walk through in terminal 5 at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago on March 1, 2020. (Nam Y. Huh/AP Photo)

City officials had announced in a press conference that a coronavirus patient who was held in isolation at another facility was released into the San Antonio community for about 12 hours after testing negative for the virus twice, but she later tested positive. Nirenberg told a news conference that she visited a local mall and hotel after she was released.

In announcing a closure on Monday, North Star said, “We were notified this morning by the San Antonio Metro Health District of an individual who visited our shopping center and was later found to have tested positive for the coronavirus. The San Antonio Metro Health District has stated this individual was not exhibiting any symptoms and is considered to be relatively low risk to the public. While the shopping center had been cleaned several times using CDC-recommended products, as an abundance of caution, we made the decision to close North Star Mall temporarily to allow for a further deep cleaning of the center,” according to KENS5.

The emergency declaration also “authorizes the City to commandeer or use any private property, temporarily acquire, by lease or other means, sites required for temporary housing units or emergency shelters for evacuees, subject to compensation requirements.”

According to the Houston Chronicle, the woman was evacuated from Wuhan, China, before she was taken to the Texas Center for Infectious Disease, where 10 other COVID-19 patients are being treated.

Abbot said that everyone who was in contact with the woman needs to be tested for the virus.

“What happened in San Antonio and what the CDC did is completely unacceptable,” he said. “It appears to be a case of negligence with regard to allowing this person who had the coronavirus virus leave … the Texas Center for Infectious Disease and go back into the general population. I think they understand the magnitude of that error they made.”