SAN ANTONIO (CN) — The mayor and city managers of San Antonio, Texas, took the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal agencies to court late Monday afternoon over their release of an American evacuee from Wuhan, China, just before a third test for the novel coronavirus indicated she was still “weakly positive” for the contagious illness.
The woman was one of 91 U.S. citizens evacuated from Wuhan – where the new coronavirus, now designated COVID-19, was first detected – and taken to Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in early February.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg went on CNN Monday afternoon to discuss the patient’s release.
“The whole point of quarantine is to make sure that exposure to the general public is eliminated,” Nirenberg said. “In this case we found out that a patient who had previously tested positive [and] subsequently tested negative was released when a test result was still pending, which I find totally unacceptable.”
According to a CDC statement, the patient’s third test came back “weakly positive” after the patient had already shopped and dined at a downtown mall and stayed the night in a hotel.
Health officials say she was not displaying symptoms, though it is known that asymptomatic individuals can still carry COVID-19. The mall has since closed so employees could decontaminate the site and the woman’s hotel room has been disinfected.
As of early Sunday morning, the woman is being treated in isolation at the Texas Center for infectious Disease, a state hospital also treating 10 other COVID-19 patients.
The petition for a temporary restraining order filed on behalf of San Antonio, Nirenberg, City Manager Erik Walsh and Assistant City Manager Dr. Colleen Bridger, asks the court to require officials to run three tests for the virus and isolate evacuees for “at least 28 days” before releasing them from quarantine.
“Based on the guidance of our medical community, we want to make sure that before anyone is released into the public, they are confirmed not to be of any risk to exposure to the public,” Nirenberg told CNN. “San Antonio is benefitted by a very well-coordinated regional health response team. … We are prepared at the local level to do everything that we need to do to protect the public, but once again, we need to make sure that our federal partners are in coordination.”
The petition was filed just hours after San Antonio and the surrounding Bexar County declared a public health emergency aimed at delaying Monday’s planned release of Diamond Princess cruise ship passengers, hundreds of whom were held on the ship at a port in Japan before being taken to stateside quarantine centers in Nebraska, California and the Lackland base in mid-February.
At least seven of the 144 passengers initially quarantined at Lackland have tested positive for COVID-19, and three others tested positive before the vessel left its Japan dock.
According to the petition, 90 of the 91 U.S. citizens evacuated from Wuhan and quarantined at Lackland have been released.
In a statement posted to Facebook, Nirenberg retraced the released patient’s steps Saturday. He also indicated U.S. Senator John Cornyn, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and Texas Governor Greg Abbott supported the city’s actions.
Abbott admonished the federal agencies during a press conference Monday.
“What the CDC did is completely unacceptable,” Abbott said. “It appears to be a case of negligence with regard to allowing this person who had coronavirus to go back into the general population. I think they understand the magnitude of the error.”
Nirenberg closed his CNN appearance with strong words for the federal government.
“Look, the CDC is … encouraging people to wash their hands to prevent the spread of the virus, as they would during this time of season,” Nirenberg said. “I also encourage the federal administration not to wash its hands of their responsibility to keep the people safe.”
The petition’s respondents include John Bash, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas; U.S. Attorney General William Barr; the Department of Defense and Secretary Mark Esper; the Department of Health and Human Services and HHS Secretary Alex Azar; the CDC and its director Robert Redfield; and U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams.
The CDC had scheduled a media briefing at noon Monday but canceled it without explanation.
Authorities in Washington state meanwhile said the virus has so far claimed six people there, the most of any state. COVID-19 has killed more than 3,000 worldwide and infected nearly 90,000 people.