San Antonio has its first confirmed case of COVID-19 after a local resident tested positive Thursday night. The case is the first in San Antonio not associated with repatriated evacuees quarantined at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.

The confirmed case is travel-related, not community-spread, San Antonio Metropolitan Health Director Dawn Emerick said at a Friday press conference.

“A community spread indicates that it spread from person to person, without anyone having previous exposure to the virus,” Emerick said. The person who tested positive acquired the virus outside of San Antonio, she said.

Shortly after this announcement, Gov. Greg Abbott declared the new coronavirus a statewide public health disaster and said testing for the disease would increase across the state. A drive-thru testing service in San Antonio – the first in the state – was being set up Friday, but it was limited to first responders and health care workers and not available to the general public, City officials said.

Employees who are ill and meet the criteria to be tested will be referred by their employer to the drive-thru service. Criteria include having symptoms of COVID-19 and testing negative for the flu, said Joe Arrington, San Antonio Fire Department spokesman.

A precise location of the testing site is not being released at this time. Testing will be done during business hours on every day of the week, and results are expected to take two days to be produced.

Metro Health is currently conducting an epidemiology investigation on the confirmed San Antonio resident to determine with whom they came into contact so anyone else in the community can be monitored for symptoms and exposure can be mitigated.

The resident is self-quarantined at home with family members, but it wasn’t known where the person contracted the virus.

Two evacuees from the Grand Princess cruise ship who arrived at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland this week were recently taken to the Texas Center for Infectious Disease after showing symptoms associated with the novel coronavirus.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg again declared a public health emergency, as a previous declaration on March 2 expired after seven days. He told the Rivard Report his office had been working on the declaration ahead of the locally confirmed case in response to San Antonio receiving 149 additional cruise ship evacuees, and the growing number of cases in Texas and nationally.

“The fact that we have a case of COVID-19 in this city is not entirely surprising,” Nirenberg said. “Prevention and containment are important goals, and we want to do everything we can to prevent the spread of disease.”

The new declaration prohibits indoor and outdoor gatherings of 500 people or more, and “strongly recommends” against gatherings with more than 250 people. However, there are some exceptions to that declaration, such as churches and shelters.

“Large crowds increase the risk of spread, and we need to prevent that, which we know will have an impact” on certain events, including the Tejano Music Festival and St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, Nirenberg said. “It still needs to be done.”

Those events were canceled later Friday.

Nirenberg also encouraged businesses with the capability to allow employees to work from home, “particularly those with children who may be impacted by closures.”

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said that during this state of emergency, the county jail will limit the number of inmates so they “don’t cause a health hazard within the jail.” He cited nonviolent offenders and those arrested for minor offenses as people who do not necessarily need to be jailed.

The County also will stop convening juries at the courthouse, Wolff said, which will result in around 2,000 fewer people going in and out of County buildings.

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Nirenberg said that while he understands the local COVID-19 case will cause great concern throughout the city, “San Antonio is a resilient city, and it will get through this by working together,” which includes practicing social distancing, maintaining good hand hygiene, and staying prepared with basic essentials at home, but “not hoarding” these essentials.

Emerick said a total number of evacuees at the local hospital, which includes those repatriated from a separate cruise ship, will be known Friday afternoon.

This article has been updated to reflect that a drive-thru testing station for coronavirus is limited to first responders and health care workers and not available to the general public.

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the Rivard Report.