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Tuesday, July 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

California Judge Extends Order Blocking Coronavirus Quarantine Site

A federal judge Monday extended a temporary order blocking the establishment of a coronavirus quarantine site in Costa Mesa, California, and ordered officials to hash out the details of plans to bring infected people to the facility.  

SANTA ANA, Calif. (CN) – A federal judge Monday extended a temporary order blocking the establishment of a coronavirus quarantine site in Costa Mesa, California, and ordered officials to hash out the details of plans to bring infected people to the facility.  

Last week, city officials in Costa Mesa say they received notice that an empty state-owned facility was being prepared to host 30 to 50 patients infected with coronavirus who could be brought in as early as Sunday, Feb. 23. A federal judge granted a temporary restraining order blocking the plan because local officials were left in the dark as to how residents’ safety would be ensured.

During a well attended hearing in a Santa Ana courtroom Monday dozens of residents listened to government and state officials describe a facility in the heart of Orange County, California, as more suitable for coronavirus patients – especially elderly patients – than a FEMA facility in Alabama. This assertion drew loud groans and guffaws from the audience, as the site is considered dilapidated by many locals and the FEMA site is a medical facility. 

Globally, nearly 80,000 have been infected with COVID-19 virus from outbreaks in China, South Korea, Italy, and other countries. 

Residents in Costa Mesa said they were given little notice on the state’s plans to prepare a site that was recently deemed unsuitable as emergency housing for the state’s homeless population.

On Monday, during the hearing before U.S. District Judge Josephine Staton, a government official said that one of the last residents had been living at the site until moving over the weekend and the site was still being evaluated. 

One lingering question Staton had for government officials at the emergency hearing was whether the decision to use the state-owned facility in Costa Mesa was based on a medical expert’s opinion or one that turned on politics.

Over the weekend, news broke that U.S. evacuees from the Diamond Princess cruise ship that has sat off the coast of Japan for weeks would not be taken to a FEMA facility in Anniston, Alabama. These patients were infected with COVID-19 but are determined to be asymptomatic or have mild symptoms, according to federal officials.

Alabama Senator Richard Shelby, a Republican, Tweeted thanks to President Donald Trump for not bringing the patients to the state. 

Staton asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Beck how medical experts determined that a FEMA facility was less suitable than a non-medical facility in California or any other facility across the nation.

Beck said the California site was deemed superior but later corrected himself to say it was preferable to treat elderly patients who lived in California and should not be transported to another state after being traveling abroad for so long.

The answer did not satisfy Staton and she asked if the decision was based on a medical expert’s opinion. She cut off Beck when he launched into a description of protocols.

“That is a yes or no question,” Staton said.

Beck said the Costa Mesa facility was suitable because it included rooms with individual bathrooms and was surrounded on three sides by a golf course. Beck said government officials, both state and federal, have had to move fast considering that any patients held at Travis Airforce Base who test positively for the virus are then taken to a local hospital in Solano County.

Jennifer Keller, representing the city, said the government has misrepresented facts and the operation was moving along without any input from local officials until the motion for the temporary injunction was filed.

“They were planning to put people there yesterday,” Keller said. 

Local officials want to know if staff who treat patients at the facility will also be quarantined, how long those quarantines will be in effect and if patients will be taken to local hospitals for further treatment. Federal officials say only a small group will be brought to Costa Mesa but that could include 30 to 50 people, and Keller pointed out that the exact number of patients who would be kept at the site is still unknown. 

Staton agreed that all the questions were logical but said the court and local municipalities do not have veto power when it comes to the process by the state and federal government. She ordered both sides to meet and try to answer any questions in the next week and to return for another hearing next Monday.

Outside the hearing Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley joked that the city was fighting both the federal and state government.

Resident Monique Janea, who lives near the proposed quarantine site, said it’s scary to think that there are so many unknowns about the virus and the federal officials had so few answers.

“What is the infection like? You hear that the symptoms don’t show for weeks,” Janea said.

Categories / Government, Health, Regional

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