Costa Mesa’s objection to coronavirus quarantine based on fear-mongering, officials say
State and federal agencies are calling Costa Mesa’s objections to using the Fairview Developmental Center as a coronavirus quarantine site “premature,” “speculation” and lacking a basis for “extraordinary disruption and intervention.”
U.S. District Judge Josephine Staton issued an injunction 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.
Federal defendants named in the city’s filing Friday — including the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Defense, Air Force and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — said the city overstepped its bounds by interfering in the agencies’ handling of a public health crisis.
The city also named as defendants the state of California and its Office of Emergency Services and Department of General Services, and the Fairview Developmental Center, which is state-owned.
The Department of Health and Human Services is evaluating Fairview as a possible location to send people currently quarantined at Travis Air Force Base in Northern California.
“There is an urgent need to house evacuees who test positive for COVID-19,” according to the federal defendants’ filing in U.S. District Court. “Home isolation does not provide the same level of monitoring and care.”
The Fairview Developmental Center, at 2501 Harbor Blvd., opened in 1959. At its peak in 1967, it housed 2,700 adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities but is now virtually empty. Like similar facilities around the state, it is slated to close soon.
Costa Mesa’s move to pursue a temporary restraining order came soon after city officials said they were notified about plans to send patients with the COVID-19 virus to Fairview — news that they said blindsided them and sparked worries about public health.
The virus, which originated in China, 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.
A federal judge Friday night granted the city of Costa Mesa a temporary restraining order it sought to stop a possible plan by state and federal agencies to use the Fairview Developmental Center to house and quarantine people with the coronavirus.
The federal defendants said Costa Mesa’s action was unwarranted and intrusive.
“Fear of COVID-19 does not justify such unprecedented intrusion into federal quarantine decisions by the specialized agencies responsible for this area,” the filing said.
In the state’s response, it called the potential for transmission of the virus to the community around Fairview “negligible” and said patients would not be able to interact with the community from the secured site.
The state said local authorities are trying to impede state and federal actions based on “speculation” that “is not only incorrect but contrary to public health protection of the very community involved.”
Statements from the California Health and Human Services Agency earlier this weekend said Fairview is “one of the possible locations under consideration.” As of Sunday, it had not been determined whether Fairview is the ultimate choice.
“Using such a site would be better for public health than the alternatives, which consist of using hospitals or home isolation,” according to the federal defendants’ court filing.
In a court declaration filed Sunday in support of the state’s response, Mark Ghaly, secretary of the Health and Human Services Agency, said the agency has considered several other facilities, including the Sonoma Developmental Center, Army National Guard Camp Roberts north of Paso Robles and closed youth correctional facilities.
If Fairview were chosen, the filings said, patients would be transported via air or ground ambulance in federally approved protective equipment and the federal government would be responsible for security, sanitation, food, medical care, case management and logistics.
“Patients housed there would be restricted from interacting with the surrounding community,” Ghaly said in his statement.
“There is no clinical indication that the health of the community in Costa Mesa would be jeopardized by housing COVID-19 patients at Fairview,” he said.
The city’s filing for the injunction stated that “this highly communicable and deadly disease has no known vaccination or cure and has killed thousands. The ... state and federal governments have not sought to include local officials and emergency personnel in the planning and execution of their efforts.”
The city sought to prevent transporting people infected with the virus to Costa Mesa “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.”
Mayor Katrina Foley said Friday that “our biggest concern is that we’re being left out of the discussion in terms of what the plan is. We don’t know how many people. We don’t know the level of illness. We don’t know how long. We don’t know what the treatment regime will be.”
The federal agencies’ response Sunday said “there is no requirement that a federal agency consult with and incorporate local government any time the agency makes decisions; indeed, such a requirement would cripple the federal government.”
Foley said in a statement Sunday that “federal and state officials failed to follow CDC established protocols regarding the identification of appropriate quarantine and isolation sites... [Fairview Developmental Center] is ... not an appropriate use, as they are not prepared to handle infectious disease. We will continue to protect the public health and safety of our community.”
Costa Mesa’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 Thursday evening and told him the buildings at Fairview would be cleaned up by Sunday in order to place 30 to 50 infected people.
Any California residents diagnosed with the coronavirus at Travis Air Force Base would be sent to Fairview, he said. If they needed hospital care, they would be taken to an Orange County hospital.
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.
Sixty-seven California residents, including some from Orange County, are among the Americans evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan and quarantined at Travis Air Force Base, the federal agencies said. They have tested negative for the virus but are under quarantine because they could still fall ill, according to the court documents.
Housing them at the base “would pose a greater potential disruption to facility operations than the lesser resources and personnel needed for a group with no confirmed positives,” according to the filing.
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.
Eddrick Watson, 24, a caregiver at a ResCare home, said his biggest concern is for his clients, who are already vulnerable to illness.
“Any type of virus going around … could be fatal for them,” Watson said.
Mary, 36, a neighborhood resident who did not want to give her last name, said: “Right now we’re [uneasy]. Shall we stay? Shall we run? What should we do?”
A slew of elected officials and concerned residents packed Costa Mesa’s City Council chamber Saturday afternoon for a news conference supporting the city’s decision the day before to request a restraining order that at least temporarily blocked state and federal agencies from sending people with the coronavirus to the Fairview Developmental Center.
In a brief filed Sunday supporting Costa Mesa, officials from neighboring Newport Beach emphasized the health and welfare of Newport Beach residents and the potential economic consequences of coronavirus patients staying nearby.
“The city of Newport Beach contends that this ill-advised plan could result in the spread of the coronavirus, not only throughout California but throughout the world,” Newport Beach City Atty. Aaron Harp wrote.
Newport Beach is a tourism magnet, drawing more than 7 million people a year to its beaches, harbor, hotels and high-end shopping, the city said.
“Even the hint that coronavirus is nearby could have significant economic ramifications clearly not considered by the state or federal government in their decision-making processes,” according to the brief.
Before this legal battle broke out, Costa Mesa officials had touted a positive working relationship with the state. In January, Foley and other city officials visited the governor’s office and the state Department of General Services in Sacramento to discuss the future of Fairview, among other things. City Manager Lori Ann Farrell Harrison later said the meeting was “good” and “very collaborative.”
In September, the City Council formed an ad hoc committee to work with state officials about the Fairview property. A month ago, the committee presented its ideal vision for Fairview: a mixed-income community complete with houses, businesses and open space.
During a news conference Saturday at City Hall, Foley questioned why officials would choose Fairview as a quarantine site when the Department of General Services had informed city officials recently that the center was “inadequate to put a homeless shelter.”
In a revised budget proposal in May, Gov. Gavin Newsom called for designating $2.2 million “to complete a site evaluation of disposition options” for Fairview, including “identifying constraints and opportunities ... in the reuse of the property, particularly related to meeting housing and homelessness needs.”
4:34 PM, Feb. 23, 2020: This article was originally published at 2:31 p.m. and has been updated with new information.
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