Federal government says it won’t put coronavirus patients in Costa Mesa

Federal officials have decided not to send people who tested positive for coronavirus to the Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa, according to a court filing Friday.
(File Photo)

The federal government will not pursue a plan to send coronavirus patients to the Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa.

“The federal defendants have decided not to move forward with the challenged proposal,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Beck wrote in a filing Friday in federal court. “As a result, the court should dissolve the temporary restraining order and dismiss this action.”

U.S. District Judge Josephine Staton granted Costa Mesa’s request a week ago for a temporary restraining order that prevented federal and state agencies from placing people with the coronavirus known as COVID-19 at the vacated, state-owned Fairview Developmental Center for isolated monitoring and care. The patients, as many as 30 to 50, have been quarantined at Travis Air Force Base in Northern California.

On Monday, Staton extended the restraining order while directing state, federal and local officials to sort out information about the Fairview proposal before another court hearing scheduled for 2 p.m. next Monday.

But Beck wrote in Friday’s filing that “the federal government has no plans to use the Fairview Developmental Center, or any other facility in Costa Mesa, to house individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19.”

“Sounds like a win to me,” Costa Mesa Mayor Pro Tem John Stephens said late Friday afternoon. “I’m absolutely thrilled by the federal government’s decision. … It’s the right decision and it came with a lot of work and convincing by the Costa Mesa legal team and the good work by the county and our neighboring jurisdictions.”

Mayor Katrina Foley’s response was more measured.

“This is at least a temporary victory for the citizens of Costa Mesa and Orange County,” Foley said in a statement. “But the government has not promised not to place future infected persons there, so the battle is not over. We will continue to ask the court to prohibit the government from using this completely inappropriate facility for housing people infected with a highly communicable and potentially fatal disease.”

In a statement Friday afternoon, the California Health and Human Services Agency said the federal government informed the state that the Fairview Developmental Center was no longer needed, since passengers testing positive for COVID-19 from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, who would have been sent to Fairview, were at “the imminent end of [their] isolation.”

“The temporary restraining order prevented Fairview from being available at a time when it was critically needed,” according to the statement.

The city filed for the injunction Feb. 21 against federal defendants including the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Defense, Air Force and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It also named as defendants the state of California and its Office of Emergency Services and Department of General Services, and the Fairview Developmental Center.

Staton granted the restraining order that night.

Costa Mesa’s legal action came soon after city officials said they were notified about plans to send patients with the COVID-19 virus to Fairview. They said the news blindsided them and triggered fears about public health in the surrounding area.

Orange County declared a local health emergency Wednesday in response to the coronavirus that has infected more than 85,000 people worldwide, with more than 2,900 deaths. Sixty-three cases have been confirmed in the United States.

The county’s move was largely tied to the furor over the Fairview proposal, officials said. The county has filed court documents supporting Costa Mesa’s action aiming to prevent it, as have several other local governing bodies.

Costa Mesa said in a news release Friday that city officials met Thursday with representatives of state and federal agencies to try to get answers to the city’s questions about the proposed use of Fairview, which is on 114 acres at 2501 Harbor Blvd. The center opened in 1959 and at its peak housed 2,700 adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. More recently, the facility has been virtually empty, and Staton said Monday that the last resident had moved out.

“After the three-hour meeting, we didn’t feel any closer to understanding the safety, security or patient plans for FDC and local hospitals in Orange County,” Foley said in the city’s release. “The majority of our 120 written questions, plus verbal follow-up, were not answered with any specificity of the criteria used to select this non-military base site.

“We continue to question medical treatment plans, public health, public safety, the adequate infrastructure of the Fairview Development Center, from seismic safety to mechanical systems, as well as the cost to the taxpayers of Costa Mesa to protect our first responders and our community.”

As part of a joint report filed in court Friday, the city said state and federal officials had not been in contact with local hospitals or EMS providers, “despite repeatedly stating they would rely on local healthcare resources to treat patients whose symptoms became severe or other individuals who were accidentally exposed to the virus.”

By contrast, the federal defendants said in the report that they found the meeting “informative and productive” and that federal officials answered “the vast majority of the questions.”

“It illustrated how coordination between the [various governments] would have proceeded if the [city] had not prematurely initiated a disruptive litigation campaign, damaging these communications,” the statement said.

In court filings Sunday in response to the city’s legal action, the federal and state agencies called its objections “premature,” “speculation” and lacking a basis for “extraordinary disruption and intervention.”

The federal defendants said “using such a site would be better for public health than the alternatives, which consist of using hospitals or home isolation.”

The response also 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.”

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 were 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.”

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6:02 p.m. Feb. 28, 2020: This article was originally published at 5:06 p.m. and has been updated with new information.