Update – Federal officials on Sunday evening canceled plans to quarantine American evacuees with coronavirus disease at the FEMA Center for Domestic Preparedness in Anniston. It was “one site determined to be suitable and effective, but is not needed at this time,” a statement from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said.
Anniston was being considered a “back-up plan” to house some patients that have tested positive for COVID-19, according to Gov. Kay Ivey.
During a press conference Sunday morning, Anniston City Council members said they received a letter on Saturday from the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency saying that some patients would be transported from an undisclosed location to a FEMA Center for Domestic Preparedness in Anniston.
Sen. Richard Shelby tweeted Sunday afternoon it wasn’t going to happen.
I just got off the phone with the President. He told me that his administration will not be sending any victims of the Coronavirus from the Diamond Princess cruise ship to Anniston, Alabama. Thank you, @POTUS, for working with us to ensure the safety of all Alabamians.
— Richard Shelby (@SenShelby) February 23, 2020
In a press release earlier in the day, Ivey said that Anniston was only being considered a “back-up” in case the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services ran out of alternative locations.
“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,” Ivey said.
Ivey said she’s had multiple conference calls with the HHS and the White House.
“They assured us on both calls that no decision had been made to send anyone to Anniston,” Ivey said. “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.”
The patients were evacuated from the Diamond Princess Cruise Ship off the coast of Japan. Anniston Mayor Jack Draper says they’ve been told the patients tested positive for the virus and at the time showed mild to no symptoms.
At an emergency meeting Sunday morning, the council passed a resolution to request that the city attorney draft a legal motion to stop the federal government from sending patients to the Anniston facility. Draper said this wasn’t the same as a lawsuit, but that the council could authorize one later, if needed.
“It is important that we have all options available to us. I mean we clearly have to be concerned about the health of our community,” Draper said. “At the same time I think we have to recognize that that the eyes of the nation and possibly the world are on us now, and these are fellow Americans who have contracted the horrible disease and we are in partnership with all of our fellow Americans.”
Meanwhile, the Calhoun County Commission issued a declaration of emergency Sunday to ask for assistance in case the proposal moves forward.
The Anniston City Council is scheduled to hold a special council meeting on Monday.