Not in my backyard: Alabama balks at plan to house coronavirus patients

2020-02-23 15:17:55

A federal plan to house cruise ship passengers who tested positive for the coronavirus at a facility in Alabama was met with a resounding no thanks by state officials who may have forced authorities to shelve the idea.

Globally, the death toll from the virus was approaching 2,500 on Sunday.  More than 78,000 cases have been confirmed. The U.S. has 35 confirmed cases.

The plan called for the FEMA Center for Domestic Preparedness in Anniston to be used as a coronavirus quarantine center for some American passengers evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship stuck in Japan. Most of the evacuees involved are housed now at military bases in Texas, Colorado and California.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had said the center was selected because of its “unique facilities.” Only patients with minor symptoms – or none at all – would go to Anniston under the plan. Any evacuees who become seriously ill would be taken to “pre-identified” hospitals, HHS said.

The plan drew a quick and negative response from the mayor, the governor and multiple Alabama congressmen.

“The people of Alabama DO NOT want the coronavirus brought here,” Rep. Bradley Byrne said on Twitter. “I’m fighting to bring this to a full stop. Leave these people in the place they came to, don’t spread them around the US, and keep them OUT of Alabama. The risk is much too high.”

Third Diamond Princess passenger dies: 80-year-old Japanese man

Rep. Mike Rogers said he had spoken with President Donald Trump, who Rogers said agreed that the HHS plan was the “wrong decision.”

Gov. Kay Ivey said Sunday that the HHS announcement was “inadvertently, and perhaps prematurely, sent.” She said she learned through a series of conference calls that Anniston was being considered only as a backup plan and that no decision had been made to send anyone to Anniston.

Ivey said her state wants to assist fellow Americans but cited “grave concerns” over how Anniston was chosen.

“First and foremost, my priority is to protect the people of Alabama,” Ivey said in a statement. “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.”

South Korea orders red alert

Worldwide, South Korea went on its highest alert Sunday, announcing a sixth coronavirus death and saying cases have surpassed 600. President Moon Jae-in raised the virus alert level to red, the highest in its four-tier system, for the first time in more than a decade. Schools that were supposed to open in a week will be delayed until March 9.

Health Minister Park Neung-hoo said the next seven or 10 days will be crucial in combating the virus. “The COVID-19 is spreading quickly, but it is limited within a specific region and group,” Park said.

A poster detailing precautions to take against the coronavirus is seen at a bus station in Goyang, South Korea, on Feb. 23, 2020. The signs read "Precautions against the coronavirus."
A poster detailing precautions to take against the coronavirus is seen at a bus station in Goyang, South Korea, on Feb. 23, 2020. The signs read “Precautions against the coronavirus.”

China: Epidemic ‘grim and complex’

In China, President Xi Jinping pledged unrelenting efforts to control the outbreak that has killed more than 2,400 of his countrymen. “The epidemic situation remains grim and complex, and it is now a most crucial moment to curb the spread,” Xi told state media. More than 76,000 of the infection cases are in mainland China. The silver lining: More than 23,000 of those patients have been confirmed as “totally recovered.”

In Iran, President Hassan Rouhani issued a decree setting up a national committee for managing the epidemic, which has killed eight people in the country – the highest death toll outside China. Another 43 cases have been confirmed. Cultural centers, schools and universities in 14 provinces were ordered closed, and Turkey closed its border with Iran. Sylvie Briand, director of global infectious hazard preparedness at the World Health Organization, expressed concern over the “very rapid increase in a matter of a few days” in the country.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coronavirus: Alabama balks at plan to house coronavirus patients

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