The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced on Sunday that it would retest a coronavirus patient who had already been released from a San Antonio medical facility.
The patient had twice tested negative for the virus that causes COVID-19 and was released. The patient, who interacted with members of the San Antonio community, was then recalled to isolation after results from a third test—which came up positive—were reviewed.
The CDC statement explained that the individual was among a group of people brought back to the U.S. from Wuhan, China, and quarantined at Lackland Air Force Base. The patient was the only evacuee from that group to test positive for the disease. The evacuee was taken to Methodist Texsan Hospital, then transferred to the Texas Center for Infectious Diseases. The patient remained there for several weeks.
“At the time of discharge from the facility,” the CDC statement explained, “the patient was asymptomatic and met all of CDC's criteria for release – resolution of any symptoms and two consecutive sets of negative test results, collected more than 24 hours apart.”
The results of a third sample, the CDC said, were “determined to be weakly positive.”
“Out of an abundance of caution,” the statement said, the CDC recalled the person back to the medical facility. It did not identify the facility or the patient.
The statement added that local health officials were working to determine how many other people may have been exposed to the patient and to notify them about the exposure.
In a joint statement Sunday night, San Antonio and Bexar County officials reported that “Metro Health has been tracking where the person went, who they interacted with, timeframes outside the federally ordered quarantine and who may have been exposed. This information will be shared with the public when completed.”
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg was critical over the latest development. "The fact that the CDC allowed the public to be exposed to a patient with a positive COVID-19 reading is unacceptable," he said in the joint statement. "We will hold the CDC accountable to providing complete transparency for the public. This situation is exactly why we have been asking for federal officials to accept the guidance of our medical community."
Today we learned that the CDC mistakenly released a patient from the Texas Center for Infectious Disease who later returned a positive COVID-19 reading.
The fact that the CDC allowed the public to be exposed to a patient with a positive COVID-19 reading is unacceptable.
— Mayor Ron Nirenberg (@Ron_Nirenberg) March 2, 2020
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff shared Nirenberg's critical reaction: "This has been our biggest concern and now we will experience the consequences of no action. Time and time again, I have raised issues concerning evacuees, inappropriate accommodations, the risk of exposure during transporting and the need for additional monitoring and extended quarantine periods."
“Our federal representatives, the CDC, and the US Department of Defense cannot and should not ignore us now," Wolff added. "We are in dire need of additional resources and protocols immediately to include longer quarantine periods and the opening of appropriate facilities such as the Alabama facility or the San Antonio Military Medical Center. Please do not delay any longer and risk local transmission."
Wolff told TPR on Sunday night that he was concerned about Monday's planned release of more than 130 evacuees from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, who also have been quarantined at Lackland Air Force Base. He wasn’t sure if they should be released. But if they were, he said, “they don’t live here. They should go straight home.”
The public can learn more about the virus at the CDC’s dedicated website.
The latest development in San Antonio came only hours after New York City and Rhode Island reported their first infection cases, joining more than 70 other cases in the U.S. Washington State also reported at least two deaths from COVID-19. The World Health Organization has confirmed more than 87,000 cases of COVID-19 in at least 60 nations, and it estimated almost 3,000 people have died throughout the world.
Bonnie Petrie can be reached at Bonnie@TPR.org and on Twitter at @kbonniepetrie.
Joey Palacios can be reached at Joey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules.
Fernando Ortiz Jr. contributed to this report.