EMA: Plan to send coronavirus patients to Alabama was ‘pretty close to fruition’


Medical supplies brought in without local leaders' knowledge, Calhoun County EMA director says

ANNISTON, Ala. (WIAT) — After elected leaders announced that coronavirus patients would not be transported to Alabama for quarantine Monday, CBS 42 is learning more about how close the federal plan was to materializing.

According to Calhoun County Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Barton, supplies were brought in without the knowledge of local leaders.

“Nobody in Calhoun County was aware that they had moved equipment into the Center for Domestic Preparedness, except for the Center for Domestic Preparedness and the Health and Human Services within the federal government,” Michael Barton said.

A source sent CBS 42 multiple photos that showed boxes labeled “HHS” outside one of the CDP facilities. Multiple trailers were also seen parked along the fence in a picture.

However, the boxes and personnel have since departed the site.

Medical supplies sent to Calhoun County CDP center (CBS 42)

“Our understanding is that Health and Human Services had activated a disaster medical assistant team, which is what the equipment that could be seen from the fence, as well as some personnel, moving about, that they were going to be folks that were going to be on-site to monitor patients in the event that they were transported to the Center for Domestic Preparedness,” Barton said.

Barton reiterated that no patients were ever transported to Alabama and that there are no current plans to do so. He was frustrated by the level of communication from the federal level.

“The biggest issue is the lack of communication by the federal government to their local partners,” Barton said. “There were no plans put in place locally, but they were going to rely on the local infrastructure to help support this.”

EMA representatives have been occasionally monitoring the facility from the outside.

“Our staff has conducted some monitoring out on site just to see what resources you can see from the fence and to make sure that we are informed to help inform the public,” Barton said.

Some boxes were still visible from the outside of CDP property Wednesday afternoon. After recent conversations with federal partners, Barton said that any supplies will soon be sent elsewhere.

“We understand that the federal government is scaling down the equipment that they had brought to the Center for Domestic Preparedness and that they’re in the process of demobilizing all that and leaving the area,” Barton said.

Barton told CBS 42 he saw 2 trailers parked by the fence Wednesday morning along with some of the boxes. As of Wednesday afternoon, there was only 1 large trailer remaining.

Around 4 p.m., Wednesday, all supplies and trailers were gone from the outside of the CDP building. Some boxes contained personal protective equipment, federal officials said.

According to Barton, the CDP is on federal property, but he is still hopeful agencies will share information with communities that could be impacted.

In the meantime, the county has formed an infectious disease task force to prepare for the possibility of any type of problem in the future. The group will discuss training, personal protective equipment, and public education, among other topics.

“We have obtained some video training from the CDP that we have started to circulate among the public safety agencies in the county,” Barton said.

Barton credited local, state, and federal representatives for help making sure plans were canceled.

“Based on the information that we found out after the fact and things that you see on the ground, we do feel like the government was moving forward and this was pretty close to actually coming to fruition,” Barton said.

CBS 42 reached out to representatives with the Department of Health and Human Services. HHS provided updated information for this story and referred to a previous HHS release:

As part of the federal government’s ongoing efforts to plan and prepare to protect Americans from COVID-19 and collaborate with our state and local partners to address a rapidly evolving situation, we are identifying alternative sites that would meet the most immediate potential need to safely house and care for Diamond Princess passengers who have tested positive for COVID-19. The FEMA Center for Domestic Preparedness in Anniston, Alabama, was one site determined to be suitable and effective, but is not needed at this time. As always, any action that HHS takes, working with our federal, state and local partners, to address this public health emergency will be done in a way that protects both those infected with the virus and other citizens as well.

At the local level, the Calhoun County Commission is expected to issue a formal proclamation in support of the infectious disease task force at a meeting Thursday morning.


Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.