Costa Mesa steers away from further legal action as coronavirus controversy fades; O.C. may have 2 new cases

Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley says the city is not pursuing more legal action related to preventing the possibility of coronavirus patients being sent to the Fairview Developmental Center. Instead, Foley says, the city is focusing on its emergency response protocols.
(File Photo)

Now that the flare-up over whether coronavirus patients would be sent to Fairview Developmental Center has died down, the city of Costa Mesa is considering its options on how to move forward.

As the city regains its balance from a dizzying week and a half, officials will remain “hyper-vigilant” about the possibility of coronavirus cases coming to town, Mayor Katrina Foley said Tuesday, but it will not pursue further legal action at this time.

A proposal from federal and state agencies to transfer patients with the COVID-19 virus from Travis Air Force Base in Northern California to the state-owned facility in Costa Mesa threw the city into upheaval a couple of weeks ago, when it successfully filed for a temporary restraining order from a federal judge to block the plan.

After a week of sometimes rancorous back-and-forth with city and county officials, the federal government announced Friday that it was dropping the proposal.

In light of the government’s decision, U.S. District Judge Josephine Staton, who issued the injunction Feb. 21, canceled a court hearing about the matter that had been scheduled for Monday.

In a court document Staton filed Friday, she acknowledged Costa Mesa’s objection to what it considered a “flawed, unreasonable decision-making process that wrongly excluded county and local professionals and government leaders.”

But she concluded that “does not reflect the narrow focus of this litigation, namely, the now-moot endeavor to prevent the identified transfer,” and said she was dissolving the temporary restraining order.

Last week, Foley called the federal government’s decision to pull its proposal “a temporary victory.”

“The government has not promised not to place future infected persons there, so the battle is not over,” Foley said in a statement Friday.

However, the mayor said Tuesday that the city’s lawyers think the option of sending coronavirus patients to Fairview in the future is “not going to be on the table.”

So, she said, “right now we’ve pivoted to … preventative [measures]” in the city’s emergency response methods.

More than 93,000 confirmed cases of the virus have been reported in dozens of countries around the world, with more than 3,100 deaths.

Costa Mesa Fire Chief Dan Stefano said emergency responders began preparing for potential coronavirus cases weeks ago. Dispatchers were tasked with asking additional questions of callers to determine whether they had traveled out of the country recently or demonstrated flu-like symptoms.

If first responders go to a scene with the potential for COVID-19, Stefano said, they would wear full protective equipment — including eye protection, a respiratory mask, a gown and gloves — while also placing a mask on the patient and following protocol for infectious-disease control.

Stefano said efforts to prepare for the virus continue to ramp up. On Tuesday, he participated in three conference calls with statewide officials, fire chiefs across Orange County and emergency medical service employees to share information.

They also agreed on a central focus: “being prepared, not scared,” he said.

Meanwhile, two people in Orange County appear to have the coronavirus, county Health Care Agency officials announced Tuesday.

A man in his 60s and a woman in her 30s who had recently traveled to countries with widespread outbreaks of the virus tested positive, but officials are sending samples to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to confirm the results.

“The more you look for something, the more likely you are to find it,” said Dr. Nichole Quick, the county’s health officer. “Now that our Public Health Laboratory is able to perform COVID-19 testing, we expect to see more cases here in Orange County.”

The county declared a local health emergency Feb. 26 to ensure that “all of our resources can be prepared in the event of an outbreak,” according to Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel.

“Our residents should take everyday precautions to prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses, like covering your coughs and sneezes, avoiding touching your face, and washing your hands frequently,” Quick said Tuesday.

Another person in the county who contracted the virus earlier this year has fully recovered, health officials said.

City News Service contributed to this report.

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8:22 PM, Mar. 03, 2020: This article was originally published at 6:20 p.m. and has been updated with new information.