Trump administration cancels plan to bring coronavirus patients to Alabama city following pushback from local officials
Posted February 24, 2020 4:57 p.m. EST
CNN — The Trump administration has canceled plans to bring coronavirus patients to an Alabama city after pushback from local and state officials.
The move comes amid concern about novel coronavirus cases in the United States and growing fears of a global pandemic. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Monday there were 53 confirmed cases of the virus in the US. The Department of Health and Human Services was evaluating the possibility of using a Federal Emergency Management Agency Center for Domestic Preparedness in Anniston, Alabama, as a backup location for Americans infected by the virus.
During a press conference in Anniston on Monday morning, local and state officials said they were left in the dark about the federal government's plan to house coronavirus patients in the city.
"None of us at the city, the county or any of the people who you see up here today had any really advanced knowledge of this," Anniston Mayor Jack Draper said.
"We're simply not prepared to help our fellow citizens at this time who have been diagnosed with this disease," he continued, adding that after several meetings with HHS that he was not aware of a real plan nor of what would be expected of the local community, first responders and local health care.
Alabama Rep. Mike Rogers, a Republican, said he spoke with President Donald Trump over the weekend about the plan and said the President was "completely unaware" of the plan and "annoyed that these individuals had even been brought back to continental United States while they were still infected, but assured me he would get to work on trying to stop it."
CNN reached out to the White House for comment on Monday.
Senators will be briefed Tuesday morning in a classified setting on the novel Coronavirus, two sources with knowledge of the plans told CNN Monday. One source said that the briefing will be in a classified setting because the senators who are organizing it wanted to be prepared in case a senator asks a question that can only be answered in such a setting. One source added that there will be briefers from the State Department, HHS, CDC, Department of Homeland Security and National Institutes of Health.
On Sunday, HHS said it was "identifying alternative sites" to "house and care for Diamond Princess passengers who have tested positive" for the virus.
"The FEMA Center for Domestic Preparedness in Anniston, Alabama, was one site determined to be suitable and effective, but is not needed at this time," HHS in a statement.
HHS told Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Friday it was evaluating the possibility of using the center as a backup location for some Americans infected by the virus, according to statements from the Alabama Department of Public Health and the governor's office.
"On Saturday, it appears that a press release from HHS was inadvertently, and perhaps prematurely, sent notifying the State of Alabama that these individuals were scheduled to begin transporting to Alabama as early as Wednesday," the Republican governor said in statement.
Draper convened a council meeting to consider "immediate legal action" to stop the "transportation and quarantine persons infected with coronavirus disease within the city of Anniston," the mayor said Sunday.
In a separate press conference Monday, officials said they would not take legal action since there were government assurances that the plan was canceled.
The leaders said they want to help those infected by the virus, but the state was not prepared to help at this time.
"The thing I want people to be mindful of is The Center for Domestic Preparedness is a world class training facility but it is no way prepared or equipped to deal with infectious diseases," Rogers said.
Anniston residents who attended the press conference echoed the officials' sentiments.
Anthony Gregory, a resident, told CNN he learned of coronavirus patients possibly coming to the city on Saturday and said it was "very disturbing."
"There's a lot of fear in regards to bringing people here that are infected into an area that is not prepared to deal with their infection," he said.
Delia Simmons, another resident, also said the city is not ready to treat patients.
"If you ain't ready, then you can't say that we (are) safe because anything can happen," she told CNN. "What if something had broke out? Then what? We would be messed up and our kids and they weren't thinking about that."