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Federal judge blocks effort to transfer coronavirus patients to California city

The plan was to move dozens of patients who tested positive for the coronavirus from Travis Air Force Base in Northern California to Costa Mesa.
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A federal court blocked efforts Friday night to transfer dozens of patients who tested positive for the coronavirus from Travis Air Force Base in Northern California to an empty building in Southern California.

U.S. District Judge Josephine Staton granted a temporary restraining order after the city of Costa Mesa filed a request for an injunction earlier in the day. Named as defendants were the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Defense, U.S. Air Force, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services and the California Department of General Services.

An expedited hearing is scheduled Monday in Santa Ana, California.

City officials said they were made aware of plans Thursday evening by regional representatives from state and local health agencies to transfer 30 to 50 patients to a building there. The patients would have arrived as early as Sunday, according to the court filing.

“Our top priority is the safety and security of this community and those who live in this region,” Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley said in a statement. “We have received no information regarding how the facility will be prepared, what precautions will be taken to protect those in the facility as well as those who live nearby, and other important planning measures.”

The empty building, the Fairview Development Center, once served as an assisted living center for people with disabilities and is situated near a country club, golf course, several high schools and a popular park frequented by families. It sits on 114 unsecured acres. The California State Department of General Services recently surveyed the site as a potential temporary shelter for people experiencing homelessness, but found that it required $25 million in renovations, according to the request for an injunction.

“Fairview is a dilapidated complex surrounded by residential neighborhoods, busy thoroughfares, and popular recreation facilities,” city officials say in the document. “It was not intended to house individuals infected with a highly contagious and deadly disease.”

An email to Travis Air Force Base was not immediately returned. Representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services said they were not aware of the temporary injunction nor of plans to transfer patients from Northern to Southern California this weekend.

Rep. Harley Rouda, a Democrat whose district includes Costa Mesa, blamed the Trump administration and the governor's office for moving forward with a plan that wasn't communicated to those who would be directly affected.

"They decided our voices, expertise, and collaboration were not worth consideration," the congressman said in a statement, throwing his support behind Costa Mesa city officials. "The Orange County community deserves answers: Why here? Why now? How many patients will be transferred? How many more are projected? When can we expect this transfer? What is the public health and safety plan?"

The disease caused by coronavirus that has spread throughout the globe is called COVID-19, according to the World Health Organization.

More than 76,000 people worldwide have been infected with the coronavirus to date. Deaths have been reported in Iran, Italy, South Korea, Japan and beyond. The vast majority of the deaths are in mainland China. In Hubei province, the center of the virus outbreak, the number of new confirmed cases climbed from 411 on Thursday to 631 on Friday, and the total number of confirmed cases rose from 62,442 to 62,662 in that period.