COSTA MESA – A federal judge has granted a request by Costa Mesa for an emergency restraining order, blocking plans to transfer as many as 50 coronavirus patients from an Air Force base near Sacramento to the former Fairview Developmental Center as early as this weekend.
The court papers, filed Friday in federal court in Santa Ana, state the city was only informed of the proposed transfer Thursday night.
U.S. District Judge Josephine L. Staton granted the restraining order Friday blocking moving patients to the former developmental center until an “expedited hearing” on the matter could be held at 2 p.m. Monday, Feb. 24.
The city is seeking to stop the patients from being moved 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.”
Officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could not be reached for comment.
But in a letter to constituents late Saturday, Feb. 22, Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley said the threat of Coronavirus patients coming to her city was “surreal’.”
“It’s right out of a movie,” she wrote. “Some even believed it was a hoax at first. Sadly, it’s not. Who would believe that a federal agency could decide to transfer persons infected with the contagious Coronavirus into Costa Mesa, right in the heart of our residential densely populated community?
“The federal and state agencies began preparing to house patients fairly secretly and without any meaningful consultation with our city or county teams. (We) assure you that we will fight with all of our might to protect the safety and security of Costa Mesa, and the Orange County region at large.”
The Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa has been used to treat patients with mental health issues, but is in the process of being closed by the state.
According to the city’s court documents, federal authorities informed the city that the patients could be transferred as early as Sunday.
“This was a bit of a blind side,” Foley told City News Service.
Foley said the city “was surprised to learn yesterday (Thursday) around 5:20 p.m. that Fairview Developmental Center was being considered for use for 30 to 50 patients who have tested positive for coronavirus.”
“We were not part of the process” of determining where to place the patients, Foley said. “We have been left in the dark as to all of this. It has been really through a great effort by our emergency response team and our community partners on state levels to even get this information.”
The city filed the application for a restraining order “to halt any further action until we can learn what is the plan, how it will impact our community, what will be the protocols put in place and how can we protect the safety and security of our residents,” Foley said.
She said only two patients are still at the Fairview facility, but staff members still reside on the campus.
On Saturday, other county officials offered support for the city of Costa Mesa’s legal action.
“Protecting the well-being and maintaining the safety of all Orange County residents is our highest priority,” Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel said. “I support Costa Mesa’s request to halt the transfer of coronavirus patients by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention until we have all the information to ensure all the adequate and necessary safeguards and precautions are established.”
“As the local health department, it is our hope that we can engage in a more thoughtful and robust collaboration with our colleagues at the state and federal level to ensure the health and safety of Orange County residents is protected and next steps are clearly communicated to the public,” said Dr. Nichole Quick, Orange County Health Officer.
“My first reaction was that this was a hoax,” said Congressman Harley Rouda, who criticized the federal government’s lack of communication with local officials before deciding on the Fairview facility. “Why now? Why here?”
Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris said she would be “confounded” if federal officials decided to send patients and people who were exposed to the potentially deadly virus to the site, some 400 miles away from where they are currently under isolation, given the number of homes and businesses nearby.
City officials suspect some of the patients being considered for transfer were passengers aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which was under an on-board quarantine in Japan. CDC officials have said some of those passengers were taken to Travis Air Force Base near Sacramento, and an unknown number had tested positive for the virus that has killed more than 2,300 people.