Orange County Declares Coronavirus Emergency, Fights Transfer of Infected Patients

February 27, 2020 Updated: February 27, 2020

SANTA ANA, Calif.—Orange County officials declared a local health emergency on Feb. 26 in response to a potential coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

The county only has one confirmed case of coronavirus so far, but the county has been fighting the transfer of 30–50 coronavirus-positive patients to a local facility for quarantine.

Local officials speaking at the County Administration South Building in Santa Ana said the declaration follows up on a statement made Feb. 25 by Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Messonnier said at a news conference that it’s a matter of “when” not “if” the virus will spread through U.S. communities. Orange County is preparing with the declaration of emergency, even as it fights the proposal to bring dozens of coronavirus patients into the county.

The local health emergency will allow local hospitals to receive aid from state and federal sources in combating an outbreak.

County Health Officer Dr. Nichole Quick signed the declaration of emergency. Quick explained that patients who visit hospitals and clinics with the flu will be tested for coronavirus in an effort to expand data and surveillance of the outbreak.

San Diego and Santa Clara counties have also issued declarations of emergency.

“The County of Orange is dedicated to protecting the public health of our community,” said Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steele. “Regarding the use of Fairview Developmental Center as a potential quarantine site for coronavirus-positive patients, the Board of Supervisors yesterday voted unanimously to file an amicus brief in support of local litigation in order to stop the transfer.”

Moving Patients to OC’s Fairview Development Center

State officials are trying to find a suitable facility to care for American patients who tested positive for coronavirus after disembarking from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in January.

Patients are currently being held in quarantine at the Travis Air Force Base.

However, in a legal battle underway, state and federal agencies are trying to force Costa Mesa municipality to allow patients to be housed for quarantine in the Fairview Developmental Center.

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A crew member wearing a face mask walks on the deck of the Diamond Princess cruise ship at Daikoku pier cruise terminal in Yokohama, Japan, on Feb. 24, 2020. (Philip Fong/AFP via Getty Images)

The multi-level center, which was built in 1959, has been listed for closure. It once housed 2,700 patients with mental and developmental disabilities.

“We believe that the transporting and aggregating of these patients into a densely populated area like Orange County, does not preserve the health of our community,” said Board of Supervisors Vice Chair Andrew Do.

Orange County has about 3 million residents.

“It seems to us that this decision to transfer these patients to Costa Mesa was hastily done, if not politically driven,” he said. “Before that decision can be made, they have to explain and prove to the judge that the facility is in fact appropriate for this kind of care.”

On Feb. 24, U.S. District Judge Josephine Staton issued a temporary week-long restraining order to prevent the transporting of anyone with coronavirus to any Costa Mesa location.

The next court hearing is set for March 2 at the federal courthouse in Santa Ana, which will determine whether the patients will be housed in the Fairview facility.

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The Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa, Calif., on Feb. 26, 2020. (Jamie Joseph/The Epoch Times)

Rachel Lurya, spokesperson for Orange County Board Supervisor Don Wagner, said that Wagner “supports the emergency declaration, not because he necessarily believes the public is in greater danger, but because the federal and state governments refuse to give us enough information to discharge our public health responsibilities.”

“It is an emergency when the local public is treated so poorly that we cannot reasonably determine the danger level,” she said.

A small group of Costa Mesa residents lined up outside of the facility on Feb. 26 and shared their concerns. Some held signs with messages including, “Not equipped for coronavirus.”

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Local residents Kelly Depledge (L) and Jennifer Sterling (R) protest the plan to move coronavirus patients to the Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa, Calif., on Feb. 25, 2020. (Jamie Joseph/The Epoch Times)
Epoch Times Photo
A protester holds up a sign near the Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa, Calif., on Feb. 25, 2020. (Jamie Joseph/The Epoch Times)

“This is not an adequate location,” said Costa Mesa resident Jennifer Sterling. “My heart goes out to those patients. Yes they belong in this community, but this is not something we can experiment with. We cannot be a pilot program with … [an] old building that has old air conditioning, old ventilation, old sewage, old plumbing—we have to be smart about this.”

Another Costa Mesa resident, Kelly Depledge, believes the location is unsafe for the kind of containment needed for the patients.

“This place is not in any way near the shape or form it should be for any kind of containment,” said Depledge. “This has been closed down. We have the golf course, we have families, we have kids that play sports … around here. This is a respiratory airborne illness, they would need reverse ventilation and they don’t have this to contain it.”

The facility is adjacent to Cornerstone, a residential community, and a golf course. It is tucked a few hundred feet away from Harbor Boulevard, a main road with shops, gas stations, and restaurants.