An effort by health authorities to move as many as 50 coronavirus patients from Travis Air Force Base to a facility Costa Mesa was put on hold for another week Monday by a federal judge.
U.S. District Judge Josephine L. Staton had granted an emergency temporary restraining order Friday, when city officials filed court papers saying they were not notified in advance of the plans and wanted assurances that an adequate study had been done to determine if the site is safe to house the patients.
In court Monday afternoon, government attorneys said the Fairview Developmental Center had been inspected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday morning and determined it to be a suitable location.
But Staton opted to extend her restraining order for another week, and she asked attorneys on both sides to meet and try to reach an agreement. Staton scheduled another hearing for next Monday.
The center for mental health patients, located on 114 acres between the Santa Ana River and state Route 55, is slated to be closed. Only two patients remain at the state-owned facility, but staff members still reside on the campus.
The city claims in its lawsuit that the patient move should be blocked until “an adequate site survey has been conducted, the designated site has been determined suitable for this purpose, all necessary safeguards and precautions have been put in place, and the public and local government have been informed of all efforts to mitigate risk of transmission of the disease.”
Federal authorities had informed the city that the patients could have been transferred as early as Sunday, according to the city’s court documents.
Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley said the city sought the restraining order “to halt any further action until we can learn what is the plan, how it will impact our community, what will be the protocols put in place and how can we protect the safety and security of our residents.”
The new coronovirus strain, known as COVID-19, has killed roughly 2,600 people, the vast majority in China, particularly in the area of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. Nearly 80,000 cases have been reported worldwide.
According to the CDC’s website, “Imported cases of COVID-19 in travelers have been detected in the U.S. Person-to-person spread of COVID-19 also has been seen among close contacts of returned travelers from Wuhan, but at this time, this virus is NOT currently spreading in the community in the United States.”
In court papers, attorneys for the federal government responded to the Costa Mesa lawsuit by calling it an “ill-informed and legally baseless application” that “endangers the safety and well-being of the American people.”
“Public health experts at all levels of federal and state government need to spend their time and efforts addressing the COVID-19 outbreak and protecting the health and safety of our communities. … Plaintiffs’ efforts have only increased the likelihood of the threats to public health that they seek to avoid.”
City officials said they suspected some of the patients being considered for transfer were passengers aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which was under an on-board quarantine in Japan.
CDC officials have said some of those passengers were taken to Travis Air Force Base near Sacramento. In court Monday, attorneys said 67 patients are housed at the Air Force base, while 15 others had been moved to hospitals in Northern California.
Foley called the threat of coronavirus patients coming to her city “surreal.”
“It’s right out of a movie,” she wrote in a letter to constituents late Saturday. “Some even believed it was a hoax at first. Sadly, it’s not. Who would believe that a federal agency could decide to transfer persons infected with the contagious coronavirus into Costa Mesa, right in the heart of our residential densely populated community?
“The federal and state agencies began preparing to house patients fairly secretly and without any meaningful consultation with our city or county teams. (We) assure you that we will fight with all of our might to protect the safety and security of Costa Mesa, and the Orange County region at large.”
Orange County Health Officer Dr. Nichole Quick said she hoped “we can engage in a more thoughtful and robust collaboration with our colleagues at the state and federal level to ensure the health and safety of Orange County residents is protected and next steps are clearly communicated to the public.”
— City News Service
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