Anniston city leaders blindsided by plan to use local FEMA facility as part of Coronavirus quarantine

Updated: Feb. 22, 2020 at 9:20 PM CST
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ANNISTON, Ala. (WBRC) - City leaders in Anniston say they were not prepared for the Department of Health and Human Services plan to use a FEMA center in Anniston, Alabama to quarantine some passengers from the Diamond Princess who tested positive for the coronavirus.

HHS announced Saturday that passengers who tested positive, but do not have symptoms, will be quarantined at the FEMA Center for Domestic Preparedness in Anniston. If an evacuee becomes seriously ill, they will be transported to “pre-identified hospitals” for medical care.

“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."

City leaders are deeply concerned about the plan. At a press conference Saturday afternoon, they said they know very little details, including what the “pre-identified hospitals” will be. They also expressed concern about how quickly things could move.

“It’s our understanding that they will be transported probably next week,” Draper said about when the patients are expected to arrive in Anniston.

“I don’t believe this area is prepared to take this on at the time,” said Tim Hodges, Chairman of the Calhoun Co. Commision. “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 Congressman Mike Rogers, President Trump has also weighed in.

“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,” Rogers said.

The following is a 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.

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