Costa Mesa officials are right to be concerned with the public health risk from COVID-19, the coronavirus that is slowly spreading across the globe. But they are wrong to try to block the state and federal government from using a state-owned medical facility in their city to isolate and treat coronavirus patients. Their objections are based on nothing more than unfounded fears that have become as widespread as the coronavirus itself.
At issue are 30 to 50 people with confirmed COVID-19 infections who are quarantined at Travis Air Force Base in Northern California, where American evacuees from the Diamond Princess cruise ship were taken. Last week the federal government told California officials that the patients would be transferred to a site in Anniston, Ala., for treatment. Rather than see sick Californians, many of them elderly, shipped to another state after having gone through an ordeal on the boat, California officials started looking for facilities here that could provide the care needed.
On Thursday evening, Costa Mesa authorities got wind that the state was considering Fairview Developmental Center, which is in the process of shutting down and seems like a reasonable choice. Local officials sued to stop the transfer, but the explanation they offered at a news conference Saturday betrayed little reason and lots of ignorance.
Here’s one example: Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel called COVID-19 “the most dangerous disease ever.” That’s not even close to the truth. In fact, so far COVID-19 is deadly in only about 2% of the cases in China and less than 1% for cases outside China. That’s no comparison to Ebola, which kills about half of the people it infects.
So what are people in Orange County afraid of exactly? State Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) objects to the Fairview site because it has air vents. We take this to mean he is concerned about COVID-19 escaping from the facility and gathering into an insidious miasma blanketing the region.
But that’s not how this disease spreads, or else it would be way too late for quarantines. (According to federal health officials, it spreads mainly from one person to another in close quarters.) Moorlach thinks a better idea would be to take the patients to a facility somewhere else, maybe in the desert. Classic NIMBYism.
Similar fears have roiled Anniston, Ala., after local officials found out about the transfer plans. But perhaps because the state is part of his base, President Trump himself called off the move on Monday.
These Americans will have to be treated somewhere. And it’s in the best interest of public health that they are treated in a facility designed to care for sick people and to minimize contagion, whether it be in Costa Mesa or somewhere in the desert. As Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization, put it so succinctly on Monday: “This is a shared threat. We can only face it together, and we can only overcome it together.”