City Fights Coronavirus from Coming Into OC

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Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa.
— Photo by Charles Weinberg ©

As concern over the spreading coronavirus grows, Newport Beach officials are joining neighboring municipalities in fighting to keep the disease out of Orange County as state and federal agencies consider transferring infected patients into a facility just over the border.

The city of Newport Beach filed a brief in federal court on Sunday supporting Costa Mesa’s efforts to stop a coronavirus quarantine facility at the Fairview Developmental Center. Orange County’s dense population, high level of tourism, and potential economic impacts are among the reasons listed for opposing the move.

Health is their primary concern, agreed several county and city officials.

“Simply put, we prioritize the health and welfare of our residents and the 7+ million visitors to our city,” Newport Beach Mayor Will O’Neill wrote on social media on Sunday in response to the city filing the brief.

Both city and county officials confirmed that the risk in Orange County remains low, and there is no evidence of person-to-person transmission.

On Thursday, the city announced that Newport Beach public safety agencies are in close communication with neighboring agencies and public health authorities following the announcement of Orange County’s first coronavirus diagnosis, and are prepared to respond quickly if necessary.

In an update shared on Thursday by the city, officials note that while the Coronavirus outbreak evolves daily on a global scale, local health officials with whom O’Neill has spoken in the past several days are urging preparedness, not panic, at this stage.

“Regardless of how the outbreak develops in the next weeks and months, Newport Beach stands ready to assist our community and regional partners,” O’Neill said in a prepared statement. “Our City has a robust emergency operations plan in place to guide a comprehensive response to many natural disasters and crises, including pandemics. Our staff trains regularly, both internally and with regional partners, to prepare for emergencies. Our top leaders from our police, fire and emergency services teams are conferring and reviewing the City’s plans and procedures to ensure the most timely and effective response possible.”

City Council and staff will continue to stay engaged on the issue through legal channels and ongoing discussions, he confirmed.

O’Neill summarized the court’s order from Monday, noting that Judge Josephine Staton expects the federal and state governments to explain: The basis on which the determination was made that the Fairview Developmental Center is an appropriate facility to house asymptomatic individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19; the specific measures that have been and will be taken by the state and federal governments to ensure the health, safety and welfare of the surrounding community, and the anticipated number of individuals who will be housed at FDC, both initially and over time.

County and city officials were ordered to submit questions on these issues by Tuesday, which the defendants need to “use their best efforts to answer,” the document reads. Both parties have to file a joint status report by the end of the day Feb. 28.

Doctors are studying the coronavirus as the disease continues to spread.
— Photo by SamaraHeisz5 / Shutterstock

Staton has continued her temporary restraining order prohibiting the transfer of coronavirus patients to Costa Mesa one more week. A hearing has been set for Monday.

State and Federal government are expected to answer a lot of questions between now and then, O’Neill explained.

In the city’s brief, City Attorney Aaron Harp wrote that, as Costa Mesa’s neighbor, they have “significant” interest in the case and that there is reason for concern.

“Time is needed to verify that there are sufficient plans in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus from the persons proposed to be quarantined at Fairview Development Center,” Harp wrote. “The city of Newport Beach has serious concerns about the short- and long-term public health effects of the plan by the state and federal governments to transport and house people exposed to or diagnosed with the coronavirus at (Fairview). Most significantly, it is not yet known how this virus is spreading and the virus has no known cure.”

Newport Beach officials also point out that the Fairview facility was not deemed suitable as an emergency shelter by another state agency less than a month ago. The center is also in a densely populated neighborhood in a city that gets many visitors annually.

“The city of Newport Beach contends that this ill-advised plan could result in the spread of the coronavirus, not only throughout California, but throughout the world,” Harp wrote.

In the city’s brief to the court, officials pointed out that “even the hint” of coronavirus nearby could have a significant economic impact on the city, something that was “clearly not considered” in the decision-making process by the state or federal agencies.

The city concludes that the move shouldn’t be made until an adequate site survey is conducted and determined suitable, all necessary safeguards and precautions have been put into place, and the local jurisdictions have been informed of all efforts to mitigate the risk of transmission of the disease.

On Wednesday, Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa), whose 37th Senate district covers Newport Beach, shared a letter he sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom about the issue.

The letter came after “several days of confusion and unanswered questions” around the possible transfer of patients to the Costa Mesa facility, Moorlach wrote. There are a lot of valid concerns, he added.

He was also not consulted about the recommendation to the federal government to use FDC as a possible patient site, Moorlach noted. Communication is key in battling the virus, he added.

“I have been working hard to provide answers and see if there are alternatives that would take care of infected Californians while protecting the good people of Southern California,” Moorlach wrote.

The density of the region should have given state officials pause when considering the site, he said.

“From our initial research, I believe that there could be superior alternatives to Fairview Developmental Center,” he added, posing several questions to Newsom that could help narrow the search down.

According to the Statewide Property Inventory, the state owns or leases 37,279 properties throughout California.

“Of these properties, how many have at least 10 individual bedrooms with attached bathrooms?” Moorlach asked.

Moorlach also questioned whether Dr. Mark Ghaly, Secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency, evaluated any of the other sites before declaring that Fairview was the only one suitable for patients with coronavirus.

Although Ghaly said there is no clinical indication that the health of the would be jeopardized by housing COVID-19 patients at Fairview, that’s really unknown, Moorlach pointed out in his letter.

“This is a virus about which little is known and is more readily being associated with the word ‘pandemic,’ causing the recent plummet in the stock market,” Moorlach wrote. “With all the factors being considered, what makes Fairview Developmental Center the most appropriate quarantine site?”

Also on Wednesday, the County of Orange declared a local emergency and a local health emergency to prepare for COVID-19, commonly known as novel coronavirus.

“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,” Chairwoman Michelle Steel said in a prepared statement.

Officials explained in the press release that the declaration of both a local emergency and local health emergency assists the county to better leverage resources in order to prepare to staffing needs and greater agency coordination, while also allowing for future reimbursement for county activities by state and federal governments in the event of an COVID-19 outbreak in Orange County.

“This decision from the County did not come lightly,” Vice Chairman Andrew Do said in the statement. “This is a measured and prudent response in preparation for the possibility of a COVID-19 outbreak in Orange County.”

While there has been only one confirmed case in Orange County and that individual has recovered, county officials said the OC Health Care Agency continues to engage and monitor the rapidly changing worldwide response to COVID-19.

“With 60 U.S. cases of coronavirus, we are facing a real-life crisis that must be managed,” Supervisor Donald Wagner said in a prepared statement. “I support an emergency declaration, not because I necessarily believe the public is in more danger, but because the federal and state governments refuse to give us enough information to discharge our public health responsibilities.”

They want to be vigilant in ensuring the county is prepared and has sufficient resources to prevent and combat any possible outbreak, he added.

For more information, visit costamesaca.gov/hot-topics/coronavirus, ochealthinfo.com, hoag.org/patients-visitors/infection-prevention/visitor-information, and cdc.gov/coronavirus/

Coronavirus fact sheet. (click to enlarge)
— Courtesy the CDC
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