Send coronavirus patients to Costa Mesa? Officials, residents decry plan
Dozens of concerned residents, state officials and representatives of surrounding communities packed Costa Mesa City Hall on Saturday to show their support for the city’s decision to request a temporary restraining order that blocks state and federal agencies from using a local facility as a quarantine site for coronavirus patients.
U.S. District Judge Josephine Staton issued an injunction on Friday preventing the transport of anyone infected with or exposed to the COVID-19 virus to any location in Costa Mesa before a hearing scheduled for 2 p.m. Monday at the federal courthouse in Santa Ana.
The virus, first reported in China in January, has spread to more than two dozen countries, including the United States, and has resulted in more than 78,000 confirmed cases and more than 2,400 deaths.
Residents of Costa Mesa and neighboring cities maintained Saturday that the state-owned Fairview Developmental Center in the city is a bad choice for a quarantine and treatment center.
“Ludicrous,” said Costa Mesa resident Katherine Craft. “What would motivate someone ... to put sick people with a deadly virus that we don’t know enough about into a community of over 100,000 and at a facility that’s outdated?”
The center, on 114 acres at 2501 Harbor Blvd., opened in 1959 and at its peak in 1967 housed 2,700 adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, but it is now virtually empty.
Like similar facilities around the state, it is slated to close soon as part of an effort to use smaller accommodations more integrated into communities rather than institutional-style centers.
Costa Mesa’s legal action Friday came less than 24 hours after city officials said they were notified about plans to send patients with COVID-19 to Fairview.
The defendants listed — including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Defense, Air Force, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state of California and its Office of Emergency Services and Department of General Services, and the Fairview Developmental Center — were given a deadline of noon Sunday to file a response.
Representatives of Orange County and Newport Beach said they planned to file court documents in support of Costa Mesa’s action.
The city’s emergency services manager, Jason Dempsey, said in court documents that representatives of the California Office of Emergency Services, the Orange County Emergency Management Division and the county Health Care Agency called him at 5:45 p.m. Thursday and told him the buildings at Fairview would be cleaned up by Sunday in order to place 30 to 50 infected people there.
Any California residents diagnosed with the coronavirus at Travis Air Force Base, a quarantine site in Northern California, would be sent to Fairview, he said. If they needed hospital care, they would be taken to an Orange County hospital.
Jim Acosta, acting administrator of the Office of Emergency Services’ Southern Region, told Dempsey on Thursday in an email included in the court documents that Fairview “was selected because no military installations will be used ... [and] state-owned properties with these characteristics are few and in condition to handle this.”
Dempsey notified the City Council, which held an emergency closed session Friday afternoon in which it voted unanimously to file for the temporary restraining order.
Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel said the idea of sending patients to Costa Mesa was unacceptable.
“We have families here and we have children here,” she said. “We didn’t have any details and just suddenly they said, ‘We’re going to send these people down to your location.’ ”
A large contingent of elected officials filled the Costa Mesa City Council Chamber on Saturday, including U.S. Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Laguna Beach), state Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach) and council members from Costa Mesa and Newport Beach.
“Let’s be clear. We do have deep sympathy for those who are infected with this virus,” Rouda said. “But let’s also be clear — all of us, as elected officials representing you, have an obligation for your safety and welfare as well.”
On Friday night, Kate Folmar of the California Health and Human Services Agency said in an email to the Daily Pilot that the Fairview Developmental Center was “under consideration as a potential location.”
“We are working closely with the federal government and local partners to assess possible locations only for fellow Californians who have tested positive for novel coronavirus, received necessary medical care and need an appropriate place to spend the remainder of their federal quarantine,” Folmar said.
“Housing these individuals in a single facility for the remainder of their quarantine will help ensure public health and safety.”
In a statement Saturday afternoon, the agency said Fairview was “one of the possible locations under consideration” and that, if it were chosen, the federal government would provide healthcare and security.
“The federal government has determined that anyone who tests positive for novel coronavirus cannot stay at Travis Air Force Base,” the statement said. “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.”
Patrick Huggins, 55, said he lived a stone’s throw from Fairview — “downwind.”
“When it was a fully functional mental hospital ... we could tell when they burned fish sticks,” Huggins said. “If they want to build up the facility and turn it into something that can handle a biological hazard, go for it. I’m not a NIMBY. I’m just, ‘Please God, think through it!’”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the virus is spread through person-to-person contact “via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes … [that] can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.”
Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley echoed many residents’ thoughts when she questioned why officials would choose Fairview. Last week, she said, the California Department of General Services informed city officials that Fairview was “inadequate to put a homeless shelter.”
“So you tell me,” Foley said. “Is it adequate” for patients with coronavirus?
Residents erupted into applause.
The Fairview campus is surrounded by several group homes for senior citizens or people with disabilities.
Neighbors expressed concerns Saturday about the possibility of infected patients coming to stay close by. As one person put it: “Nobody’s happy.”
Eddrick Watson, 24, a caregiver at a ResCare home, said his biggest concern was for his clients, who are already vulnerable to illness.
“Any type of virus going around … could be fatal for them,” Watson said.
Fary Fattaey, a caregiver at a nearby home for people with disabilities, agreed.
“They can get sick just like that,” Fattaey said, snapping her fingers.
Caregiver Salome Sandoval, 40, worried that if patients were to stay at Fairview and the disease somehow made its way into the surrounding area, it could spread further from there.
“From here I have to drive home,” Sandoval said. “I have a 5-month-old grandson. So it’s more scary.”
Pinho writes for Times Community News
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