ANNISTON, Ala. (WBMA) — A FEMA facility in Anniston will be used as a coronavirus quarantine center for some American passengers evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced on Saturday.
The passengers were evacuated back to the U.S. from the cruise ship in Japan.
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HHS said the passengers who will stay at the east Alabama federal facility have tested positive for the coronavirus (COVID-19) but are not currently showing symptoms.
They added that if any of the passengers become seriously ill at the facility, they will be transported to pre-vetted hospitals for treatment. They did not name what hospitals those would be or specify how many passengers will be housed at the facility.
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Read the entire HHS statement below:
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 patients are expected to be transported to the facility next week.
Anniston Mayor Jack Draper said at a news conference Saturday afternoon that members of city and county leadership were taken completely by surprise at the news on Saturday and that the decision was the federal government's and they weren't asked for permission.
Mayor Draper said the federal government assured them that the community would not have any impact whatsoever from the patients being housed at the facility, but that he is "concerned" they weren't made aware of the plan earlier.
Draper also stressed that the patients would be kept completely separate from the people training at the facility and that the patients would not be allowed to leave the facility until they're medically cleared.
At the same news conference, Calhoun County Commission Chairman Tim Hodges said that he intends look at steps that could be taken legally to block the patients from being brought to the facility.
FEMA's Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP) in Anniston is one of the nation's most advanced training sites for health and medical education in disasters and trains first responders from around the country, year-round.