Gov. Jay Inslee has declared a state of emergency Saturday after a man in a Kirkland hospital died of COVID-19, the first such reported death in the United States.
More than 50 people in a nursing facility are sick and being tested for the virus.
Inslee directed state agencies to use “all resources necessary” to prepare for and respond to the coronavirus outbreak. The declaration also allows the use of the Washington National Guard, if necessary.
“We will continue to work toward a day where no one dies from this virus,” the governor vowed.
The man who died was in his 50s, had underlying health conditions and no history of travel or contact with a known COVID-19 case, health officials said at a news conference. A spokesperson for EvergreenHealth Medical Center, Kayse Dahl, said the person died in the facility in the Seattle suburb of Kirkland.
State health officials announced two other new coronavirus cases Friday night, including a high school student who attends Jackson High School in Everett, said Dr. Chris Spitters of the Snohomish County Health District. The other case in Washington was a woman in King County in her 50s who had recently traveled to South Korea, authorities said. Neither patient was seriously ill.
Dr. Frank Riedo, medical director of Infection Control at Evergreen, said Saturday that it’s probable that there are more cases in the community.
“This is the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
Although neither Clallam nor Jefferson counties have any known cases, both public health officers say that a spread to the North Olympic Peninsula is eventually inevitable.
“It’s a matter of time before it comes here,” said Dr. Allison Unthank, Clallam County’s public health officer, on Saturday.
Health officials in California, Oregon and Washington state are worried about the novel coronavirus spreading because a growing number of people are being infected despite not having visited an area out of the country where there was an outbreak, nor apparently been in contact with anyone who had. That’s referred to as a community transmission.
“We’re concerned that we’re in a community transmission mode of this,” said Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County public health officer, on Saturday.
Clallam County officials plan to open an emergency operations center (EOC) on Monday, Unthank said, to coordinate a response should it become necessary. It also will serve as a focal point for information for the public, she said, although no phone number had been set up as of Saturday.
People with questions can call the state Department of Health at 1-800-525-0127.
Jefferson County had no plans to open an EOC as of Saturday but will do so if it becomes necessary, Locke said, adding that meetings with hospital, county and Port Townsend city officials are set for Monday.
“The vast majority of people who become infected with COVID-19 in the world will get better,” Unthank said, recommending that people with mild symptoms call ahead to a medical facility before going there to avoid spreading the virus.
“Of course, if you are severely ill, you should go even if you haven’t called ahead,” she said.
“But the vast majority of cases will be mild,” with coughing and fever such as can be seen in flu or colds, Unthank added.
Older people, especially those with chronic illnesses such as heart or lung disease, are especially vulnerable to having the disease lead to pneumonia. Health officials think it spreads mainly from droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how the flu spreads. Thus, they urge people to wash their hands often, stay home when sick and limit contact if possible.
State and Kings County health officials reported two cases of COVID-19 virus connected to a long-term care facility, Life Care Center of Kirkland. One is a Life Care worker, a woman in her 40s who is in satisfactory condition at a hospital, and the other is a woman in her 70s and a resident at Life Care who is hospitalized in serious condition. Neither had traveled abroad.
“In addition, over 50 individuals associated with Life Care are reportedly ill with respiratory symptoms or hospitalized with pneumonia or other respiratory conditions of unknown cause and are being tested for COVID-19,” Seattle and King County officials said. “Additional positive cases are expected.”
Amy Reynolds of the Washington state health department said in a brief telephone interview: “We are dealing with an emergency evolving situation.”
The U.S. has about 60 confirmed cases as of Saturday. Worldwide, the number of people sickened by the virus hovered Friday around 83,000, and there were more than 2,800 deaths, most of them in China. A 60-year-old U.S. citizen died in Wuhan in early February.
To achieve more rapid testing capacity, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an accelerated policy Saturday enabling laboratories to use tests they develop. FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said his agency is “rapidly responding and adapting to this dynamic and evolving situation.”
A state Department of Health official said Saturday in the press conference it received testing kits from the CDC on Friday and is aiming at a goal of testing 200 people a day.
The California Department of Public Health said Friday that the state will receive enough kits from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention to test up to 1,200 people a day for the COVID-19 virus. Oregon was able to more quickly identify a case — an employee of an elementary school in Lake Oswego near Portland because it was able to test a sample locally.
Seeking to reassure the American public, President Donald Trump said Saturday there was “no reason to panic.” The White House also announced new restrictions on international travel to prevent its spread. Restrictions apply to China, Japan, Iran, South Korea and Italy.
House and Senate negotiators were working through the weekend on a COVID-19 aid package, trying to agree on a figure between $7 billion and $8 billion, people familiar with the talks said, in advance of likely floor action next week.
Associated Press writers Rachel La Corte in Olympia, Washington; and Gillian Flaccus in Lake Oswego, Oregon, contributed to this report.
Peninsula Daily News Executive Editor Leah Leah also contributed.