Anniston (Ala.) City Council will not seek legal action after plan to quarantine coronavirus canceled

Anniston (Ala.) City Council will not seek legal action after plan to quarantine coronavirus canceled
Coronavirus outbreak promo graphic (Source: Hawaii News Now)

ANNISTON, Ala. (WBRC) - The Anniston City Council met Monday morning and decided to not seek legal action after a plan was announced last week to quarantine Americans exposed to coronavirus was canceled.

Members of the city council say they received reassurance from officials in Washington D.C. that no patients would be sent to Anniston.

Councilmember Millie Harris said she feels bad for anyone with the virus, but added Anniston is not prepared to take them in.

Multiple elected officials confirmed the plan to quarantine Americans exposed to coronavirus in Anniston was canceled on Sunday.

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, Representative Mike Rogers, and Senator Richard Shelby said Sunday they had conversations with President Trump, assuring them that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services plan to quarantine American passengers of the Diamond Princess who tested positive for the coronavirus, in a FEMA center in Anniston has been cancelled.

The Department of Health and Human Services released a statement Saturday afternoon announcing that passengers of the Diamond Princess who tested positive for the coronavirus, but do not have symptoms, will be quarantined at the FEMA Center for Domestic Preparedness in Anniston.

The following is the original full statement from the Department of Health and Human Services:

HHS is taking precautions to protect the health of all Americans from Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). To that end, HHS and FEMA agreed to use a federal facility, the FEMA Center for Domestic Preparedness in Anniston, Alabama, as a place for some of the American passengers from the Diamond Princess to stay. These are passengers whom the federal government evacuated back to the U.S. from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan.

The passengers who will stay at the Center tested positive for COVID-19, although at this time they either do not have symptoms or have mild flu-like symptoms. Any of the evacuees who become seriously ill will be transported to pre-identified hospitals for medical care. Under the HHS-FEMA agreement, the Center for Domestic Preparedness will provide the housing, and HHS will provide basic medical care and all other support services for these returning passengers. Passengers will stay in a separate area from the Center’s training participants and will remain at the Center until they are medically cleared.

The Center has unique facilities and routinely offers week-long, hands-on training for large groups of professionals from federal, state and local emergency management agencies, hospitals, public health agencies, and law enforcement agencies on disaster response.

The announcement led to both confusion and concern as local leaders insisted they had no prior notice and were not prepared.

“We were surprised. We had no idea. We were not consulted in any fashion,” said Anniston Mayor Jack Draper. “This was a decision by the federal government and the federal government solely."

“I don’t believe this area is prepared to take this on at the time,” said Tim Hodges, Chairman of the Calhoun Co. Commission. “We’re going to be working on our end to try and come up with some ways to at least temporarily stop this, try to get the federal court involved. Maybe have a chance to get all the parties involved to sit down and take a closer look at this.”

“We just want to everything we can, working with the county working with the state, working with our congressional delegation to ensure that this community remains safe,” Draper said.

According to Governor Kay Ivey’s office, the press release from HHS may have been sent prematurely and that a decision had not been made yet to send patients to Anniston.

Governor Ivey released the following statement:

Late Friday night, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) informed me about their proposal to transport Americans who have tested positive with the Coronavirus (COVID-19) from the Diamond Princess cruise ship to a FEMA Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP) in Anniston. Sensing the urgency, I quickly informed the offices of Senators Richard Shelby and Doug Jones and Congressman Mike Rogers, as well as Dr. Scott Harris with the Alabama Department of Public Health.

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.

Obviously concerned, there were a number of conversations between HHS, the White House, my staff and me, as well as two rounds of conference calls including the senior staff of the Congressional Delegation to try to clarify HHS’ intent and reasoning for selecting Alabama. On one of the calls, they informed us that the CDP in Anniston is only being considered as a “back-up” plan, in case they run out of alternative locations. They assured us on both calls that no decision had been made to send anyone to Anniston.

I made it abundantly clear that while the State of Alabama wants to work closely with the Trump Administration to assist fellow Americans who may have tested positive for the Coronavirus, there were some grave concerns about why the site in Anniston was chosen and how, logistically, this would play out in the event this back-up site were to be eventually activated.

First and foremost, my priority is to protect the people of Alabama. While locating these folks in Alabama is currently a backup plan, this is a serious issue and we need to be fully aware of the facts regarding the potential of housing them in Anniston.

I am grateful to Senator Shelby and his team for coordinating today’s effort to send officials from HHS to Alabama to provide further clarity to this situation. I also appreciate Congressman Rogers for speaking with the President and informing him of the concern of the people of Alabama. Through these coordinated efforts, we will begin a process that will be transparent, and hopefully find a solution of which we are united and comfortable with.”

The Alabama Department of Public Health released the following statement:

The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) has learned that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has evaluated the possibility of using the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Center for Domestic Preparedness in Anniston, Alabama, as a backup location for some Americans infected by the virus that causes COVID-19 (also known as 2019-nCOV or novel coronavirus). HHS has stated that this is only a contingency plan and that there are no patients currently scheduled to be transferred to the Anniston facility. According to HHS, the FEMA Center would only be used as a backup if facilities in other states are unable to handle these passengers. HHS is planning to meet today with local officials in Anniston to discuss this plan. Americans were passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship who were evacuated by the federal government to the U.S. from Japan. ADPH will release additional information as it is received from HHS.

Congressman Mike Rogers released a statement Saturday night about a conversation he had had with President Trump:

Earlier this evening, I spoke with President Trump. He agreed with me that the decision by the Department of Health and Human Services to house those Americans exposed to Coronavirus at the Center for Domestic Preparedness in Anniston is the wrong decision. President Trump had no advanced notice and these individuals were brought to the continental United States without his consent. I will continue to work with President Trump and HHS to find the best facilities that meet the needs for those Americans that have been exposed to this dangerous virus. The CDP is not that place.

Multiple emergency meetings were scheduled in Calhoun Co. Sunday.

Copyright 2020 WBRC. All rights reserved.