SAN ANTONIO — The U.S. Department of Defense has designated a San Antonio military base as one of four potential quarantine sites for those returning from overseas amid the coronavirus outbreak, should the need arise.
The directive came down Saturday afternoon as the department specified JBSA-Lackland, two military bases in California and another in Colorado as quarantine sites for people coming back from overseas.
This directive is in response to the spread of the coronavirus, which has killed more than 200 people in China. On Friday, the U.S. government declared the global spread of the virus a public health emergency, adding that the risk to the general public stateside remains low. At least eight cases have been confirmed in the U.S., and multiple airlines have suspended travel to China.
The Department of Defense announced on Saturday that they would be assisting Health and Human Services in providing housing for up to 1,000 people who may need to be quarantined after traveling overseas.
It's still unclear exactly who or how many people will be housed at at Lackland AFB, but Department of Defense officials added that personnel "will not be directly in contact with any potential evacuees and evacuees will not have access to any base location other than their assigned housing."
Air Force Spokesperson Kim Bender said the possibility that Lackland helps to quarantine those returning from overseas "will not negatively impact readiness or critical operations." The full statement sent to KENS 5 can be viewed below:
"In support of the Department of Health and Human Service's request to the DOD to provide facilities capable of housing at least 250 people in individual rooms through February 29, 2020, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland was selected. Base officials are actively coordinating this support for lodging and associated services to accommodate HHS. JBSA leadership has assessed this support will not negatively impact readiness or critical operations.
JBSA personnel will not be directly in contact with the evacuees, as well as evacuees will not have access to any base location other than their assigned lodging.
JBSA leadership's primary responsibility is the safety of our force, our families and our base communities. This is an evolving situation, and we will provide information to our families and community as available."
Later in the day, Mayor Ron Nirenberg also responded to the development with the following statement:
“We were notified that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Defense have decided to evacuate American citizens from China and quarantine them at U. S. military installations, including Lackland Air Force Base. We have been told that these individuals have no symptoms of the virus and pose no risk to our community.
We should all be comforted by the extra precautions being taken by federal, state and local health officials.
We do not currently have any individuals diagnosed with the coronavirus here in San Antonio, and our Metro Health Department will continue to monitor the situation and exercise an abundance of caution.”
US Representative Will Hurd also responded to the development:
“My focus is on the public health and safety of all Americans, which is why I have been in contact with the department and agency officials dealing with the American response to what the World Health Organization has deemed a ‘Public Health Emergency of International Concern.’ The Americans being returned from overseas travel in China will have been screened three times for coronavirus before disembarking at secured facilities at Lackland Air Force Base. These individuals will then undergo a 14-day quarantine to be closely monitored.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are continually assessing the situation and at the time of the release of this statement CDC believes the immediate risk of coronavirus to the general public in the United States is low. However, they have strongly recommended that all Americans suspend travel to China, and if you have recently visited China and are exhibiting signs of the flu you should immediately seek medical care.”