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Nirenberg on coronavirus: “The most dangerous, damaging infectious disease is hysteria”

Passengers arrive from China Feb. 7, 2020, at Joint Base San Antonio-Kelly Field, Texas. The Department of Defense is providing temporary lodging support for up to 1,000 passengers being evacuated from China to the U.S. in response to the coronavirus outbreak there. DoD has identified blocks of rooms at March Air Force Base, Calif., Travis Air Force Base, Calif., Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, and Fort Carson, Colo. Under the HHS request, DoD installations are only providing housing support. HHS is responsible for all care, transportation, and security of the passengers. DoD personnel will not be directly in contact with the passengers and these passengers will not have access to any base location other than their assigned housing. (U.S. Air Force photo by Sarayuth Pinthong)

SAN ANTONIO (KTSA News) — Government and health officials tried to ease coronavirus concerns while also confirming a total of six cases currently being treated in San Antonio Monday.

“The most dangerous, damaging infectious disease is hysteria,” San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said at the event intended to assuage public concerns and answer questions that have bubbled since evacuees began arriving at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.

Rear Admiral Nancy Knight — the CDC’s Director of the Division of Global Health Protection — said the public concerns of this quarantine affecting the general populace is overblown.

“They are people like you and me who happen to be on vacation enjoying themselves and then became involved in a group of people who were potentially exposed to this virus,” said Knight.

She stated that everyone on the base currently are people who are not symptomatic and are not currently ill.

“If they develop a fever or if they develop symptoms, then they need to be evaluated,” Knight stated.  “So then they are transferred off base for that evaluation, which includes the testing to determine if those symptoms are caused by the novel coronavirus.”

There are six current confirmed cases of the coronavirus in San Antonio — all of them from the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

“They are being held at the Texas Center for Infectious Disease,” Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council (STRAC) Executive Director Eric Epley stated.

The state facility is typically used to treat tuberculosis cases and received a lot of praise from the officials at Monday’s event.

“You wouldn’t believe the number of communities that wish they had something like [the Texas Center for Infectious Disease] that we have in this community,” Metro Health Director Dr. Dawn Emerick.

If the TCID is such an ideal place to treat these patients, why was the first confirmed case sent to Methodist Hospital Texsan in Balcones Heights?

“Some of this was augmentation from our original Ebola plan,” explained Epley.  “We’ve had an Ebola plan in place since Ebola, since it occurred in Dallas.”

The officials just used that plan and used that to handle these coronavirus cases.

“There are a lot of considerations with that,” the STRAC executive director stated.  “You have an infectious disease and where do you want to put it.  It’s got to go to some hospital — someone’s sick, they are going to need to go to a hospital.  Careful consideration was done and this time we went to Texsan.”

Everyone at the event warned that there is minimal risk to the public by quarantining these Americans at Lackland for their 14-day quarantine.

“I’ve heard some people are concerned that just because they are here in the city, you could be at risk kind of anywhere, which is not the case,” Knight told reporters. “If I’m not in that quarantine area, I’m not wearing personal protective equipment because I don’t need it.  I’m not at risk.  If I am standing more than six feet away from one of our evacuees, I don’t need to wear my personal protective equipment.  It’s a respiratory infection carried through respiratory droplets and having them there on the base is not going to cause an increased risk to the general population of San Antonio.”

City officials said handling this quarantine is part of the mantle of being “Military City USA” — which they say there is no better place in the country for those at risk.

“I think if there was any other city, any city in the United States to handle this, it is San Antonio,” Metro Health Assistant Director of Communicable Disease Dr. Anita Kurian.  “We are the military city, we have the right infrastructure, we have the expertise and right temperament to handle this.”

Six coronavirus cases now reported in San Antonio, more expected


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