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California town wins fight to keep out coronavirus patients from cruise ship

The city of Costa Mesa had sued to block the federal government from sending patients to a former assisted living center in the center of town.
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A customer enters a CVS Health Corp. store displaying a sign announcing the unavailability of masks on the door in San Francisco, California on Feb. 27, 2020.David Paul Morris / Bloomberg via Getty Images

The federal government said it has canceled plans to use an empty Orange County, California, building to house 35 or more Golden State coronavirus patients who were evacuated from the virus-plagued Diamond Princess cruise ship in Asia.

A government filing Friday sought to halt a court challenge by the city of Costa Mesa, which argued that safeguards for locals weren't considered in the transfer of patients from Northern California's Travis Air Force Base to the state-owned Fairview Development Center, a defunct assisted living center in the center of town.

"The federal government has no plans to use the Fairview Developmental Center, or any other facility in Costa Mesa, to house individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19," Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel A. Beck wrote in Friday's notice.

Costa Mesa took federal officials and the state of California to court Feb. 21 and won a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the transfer. The city on Friday asked a federal judge to keep its challenge on track because it doesn't trust this won't happen again.

"Plaintiffs ... respectfully request this Court not grant the Federal Defendants request to dissolve the TRO and dismiss this action as moot before the Parties have the opportunity to be heard at the hearing currently scheduled for Monday, March 2, 2020," wrote Jennifer L. Keller, an attorney for the city.

City officials responded to the federal government's withdrawal from the transfer plan with caution.

"This is a victory for the citizens of Costa Mesa and Orange County," Mayor Katrina Foley said in a statement. "But the government has not promised not to place future infected persons there, so the battle is not over."

In its filing, the government said it has made "other arrangements" for its Orange County-bound patients. It also downplayed any danger they might have posed to residents of Costa Mesa, a city of 113,615 near the coast that has a median household income of nearly $80,000 a year.

"The challenged proposal concerned only a specific set of individuals: a small group of California residents evacuated from the Diamond Princess who tested positive for COVD-19 but were asymptomatic or otherwise do not need hospitalization," Beck said in the government's notice.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports that at least 44 Americans who were on board the Diamond Princess have tested positive for the virus.

The ongoing court battle is being heard in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana.

Todd Miyazawa contributed.