Orange County officials declared a local health emergency Wednesday in response to the coronavirus that has infected more than 81,000 people worldwide, including 59 cases in the United States.
County Supervisors Michelle Steel and Andrew Do held a news conference with local health officials in Santa Ana to discuss the declaration.
“Although there are currently no cases of coronavirus in Orange County, my goal is to ensure all residents and visitors to Orange County as well as all of our resources can be prepared in the event of an outbreak,” Steel, chairwoman of the Board of Supervisors, said in a statement. “This will allow the county to ensure all means are available to us to protect the public.”
The county’s proclamation orders that “all county departments and agencies take those actions, measures and steps deemed necessary to assure the safety and welfare of Orange County residents and property, including requesting mutual aid to the extent such aid is necessary, and utilizing ... any other available funding stream to acquire resources determined ... necessary to respond to this declared emergency.”
It also asks that the governor and president declare a state of emergency and “make all relevant funds available to the county of Orange and all eligible community members and businesses.”
The move is largely tied to the furor over a proposal by federal and state agencies to use the state-owned Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa as a coronavirus quarantine site, Steel and Do said. The county has filed court documents supporting the city’s legal action to try to prevent it.
The city successfully requested a temporary restraining order from a federal judge on Friday, blocking possible plans to send to Fairview people who have tested positive for the coronavirus known as COVID-19.
U.S. District Judge Josephine Staton on Monday ordered federal, state and local officials to meet by the end of this week to sort out information about the potential use of the Fairview Developmental Center and provide a joint report on their meeting by 5 p.m. Friday. She set another court hearing for 2 p.m. next Monday to discuss the conclusions.
“The county of Orange continues to support Costa Mesa in opposition of state and federal government’s decision to move COVID-19 patients to the Fairview center,” Do said Wednesday.
Orange County has had one confirmed case of COVID-19, a middle-aged patient who has recovered, according to the county Health Care Agency website.
“There is no evidence of person-to-person transmission occurring here,” the site states.
California had 15 confirmed cases as of Tuesday.
In a response filed in court to Costa Mesa’s action, federal agencies argued that “fear of COVID-19 does not justify such unprecedented intrusion into federal quarantine decisions by the specialized agencies responsible for this area.”
The state’s response 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.
City and county officials say they were blindsided by the Fairview idea and had concerns about public health.
On Tuesday, county Supervisor Don Wagner called the proposal “hasty and ill-considered,” while conceding the county has “limited ability” to resist the move.
Local officials were informed “via conference call with no input from the community,” Do said. “So there’s a lot of shortcomings in the way the issue was handled and how it came to be considered. ... The process is flawed.”
Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley said the city’s top priority is “the health and welfare of our community” and that “bringing those infected into this densely populated area is simply the wrong approach.”
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.”
Santa Clara and San Diego counties have issued similar declarations.
Rob Vardon is the city editor of the Daily Pilot. Los Angeles Times staff writer Colleen Shalby and City News Service contributed to this report.