Judge halts plan to house coronavirus patients in Costa Mesa — for now

Union Station passengers wear masks amid coronavirus scare
Some commuters at Union Station late last month wear masks amid the coronavirus scare.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

A federal judge late Friday temporarily blocked the U.S. government from quarantining coronavirus patients in Costa Mesa after city officials argued that the surprise proposal came with no information about how surrounding neighborhoods would be protected from the deadly virus.

The city filed a request Friday afternoon to halt the plan to house 30 to 50 people who tested positive for the COVID-19 strain of coronavirus at the state-owned Fairview Developmental Center until the 109-acre center — which sits next to several residential neighborhoods — is determined suitable for the quarantine and safeguards are put in place to protect the neighboring community.

“It is certainly not an isolated location,” Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley told The Times. “It would certainly be important for us as the lead city to know what the plan is.”


Late Friday, U.S. District Judge Josephine L. Staton issued a temporary restraining order to halt the transportation of anyone infected with the coronavirus to Costa Mesa and set a hearing for Monday at 2 p.m. to evaluate the merits of the request.

Foley said a city staffer received a call about 5:20 p.m. Thursday from the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, saying that federal officials planned to start moving patients in as early as Sunday. She and other city officials spent the next 24 hours trying to get more details, such as how long the site would be used and how restricted patients would be. They found that the answers to their questions were different depending on who they spoke with, she said.

“We just couldn’t get any answers in any timely fashion,” she said. “We just want to minimize the impact on our residents and businesses.”

The City Council decided unanimously to file a request for a legal injunction to halt the plan for the Fairview center, which houses a handful of residents and employs a few dozen staff members.

It’s unclear where the coronavirus patients are currently being quarantined.

The Orange County Health Care Agency said in a statement Saturday that it was notified late Thursday evening of the state’s intent to transfer coronavirus patients from Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield to Fairview in Costa Mesa, “and told the transportation, monitoring, and care of these individuals would be entirely managed by state and federal representatives.”

“Since then, we have not been provided crucial details such as an operational plan or proposed scope of services,” the statement said.


“As the local health department, it is our hope that 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,” Dr. Nichole Quick, Orange County health officer, said in the statement.

The California Health and Human Services Agency said Saturday that the quarantine of evacuees at Travis “remains a federal operation” but that the state has been working hard to support the effort in a way that ensures the safety of the patients and local communities.

“The federal government has determined that anyone who tests positive for novel coronavirus cannot stay at Travis Air Force Base,” the agency said in a statement. “Some who have tested positive will need hospital care. But based upon our experience, many are not sick enough to need hospital care but still must be isolated until the infection is cleared.”

Fairview Developmental Center is one of the locations under consideration for that purpose, the agency said, but if it were chosen, the federal government would be responsible for providing healthcare and “robust security to ensure the public safety and public health of the surrounding community.”

Health officials in Humboldt and Sacramento counties each confirmed a case of the coronavirus this week in residents who had recently traveled to China.

In addition, five people who were evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan and taken to Travis Air Force Base have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, the CDC said, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in California to 15.

In total, there are 34 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States, CDC officials said earlier Friday; the Sacramento County case would bring that number to 35. Three of the cases were among people evacuated from Wuhan on government-chartered repatriation flights, and 18 were among passengers evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship. Those include the five hospitalized near Travis, plus 11 who are receiving care at University of Nebraska Medical Center near Camp Ashland and two who are being treated at hospitals near Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.

Times staff writer Alex Wigglesworth contributed to this report.