Costa Mesa found itself in the middle of coronavirus chaos last week when the federal government attempted to house patients with the disease at Fairview Development Center, just two miles down Harbor Boulevard from Orange Coast College.
City officials scrambled to stop the patients from being relocated so close to the college, and in the middle of an urban area, when they filed for a temporary restraining order asking a judge to stop the government’s action.
The government announced Friday that it would not pursue Fairview for relocation of the patients, allowing campus officials and city administrators to breathe a sigh of relief.
In a court hearing last week, Jennifer Keller, an attorney for the city, cited concerns over the densely populated neighborhood surrounding the facility and potential economic fallout from such a move as among the reasons not to use Fairview for coronavirus patients.
“Even the specter of this disease could destroy the tourism industry,” Keller said in a court hearing on Feb. 24, noting the proximity of South Coast Plaza.
For their part, the federal and state governments selected Fairview, formerly a long-term residential care center for people with development delays, to house California residents who had tested positive for the coronavirus but did not require hospitalization.
According to court filings, the rationale to use Fairview centered around the ideas that it was in the best interests of the patients’ mental and physical health to be treated in their home state.
The city filed a temporary restraining order against several state and federal agencies including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services to block the transfer of patients to Costa Mesa.
The city also alleged that the federal government’s selection of the site was done under the cover of darkness and without enough time to determine the facility’s suitability.
Several years ago, Fairview began moving its patients out with the last one leaving on Feb. 23.
After examining the site’s suitability, California state officials on Feb. 5 — weeks before the attempt to move patients there — described the facility as dilapidated and said it would require two years and $25 million to refurbish.
Originally, a federal facility in Alabama had also been set to receive coronavirus patients. However, on Feb. 23 Republican Sen. Richard Shelby said on Twitter that he had spoken to President Donald J. Trump who had agreed to not send patients to the state as previously planned.
“California must not have the pull to get taken off the list, but Alabama does,” Keller said at the hearing, implying that the move was politically motivated.
According to Tony Dodero, the public information officer for Costa Mesa, the city’s attorneys met with federal officials for several hours on Thursday.
The following day, the government dropped its proposal to use Fairview.
Repeated calls for comment to Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley’s office were not returned.
A spokesman for the Orange County Health Care Agency said that he was unable to comment since the proposal fell outside his jurisdiction.
Despite the plans being dropped, a small group of community members gathered on Saturday in front of the center to voice their concerns about Fairview being used for a similar purpose in the future.
“They tell us nothing, which creates panic,” Jennifer Sterling, one of the protest’s organizers said.
Attendees at the Feb. 24 hearing had similar concerns about the lack of information from government officials.
“The truth is scary enough. What do we not know?” Luann Jalet, 64, of Newport Beach said outside the hearing.
However, on campus OCC students seemed less concerned.
“I’m not really scared. I wash my hands and try to avoid contact,” Elliot Pyrbil, an 18 year-old engineering major said.
Anna Brittell, a 31 year-old visual arts major, said that she felt the dangers of the coronavirus are being exaggerated.
“Part of me does think it’s being blown out of proportion. Why this case?” Brittell said of the heightened media coverage of the virus.
Juan Gutierrez, OCC’s director of marketing and public relations, said that the college has been extremely vigilant and is following the guidelines laid out by the CDC and the Orange County Health Department.
The Student Health Center was unable to return requests for comment by the time of publication.