SEATTLE — Washington state reported a total of nine coronavirus deaths Tuesday as schools in the Seattle area mulled teaching students online in the event of prolonged closures over health concerns.
The schools took the steps after researchers said the virus that causes the disease called COVID-19 may have been circulating for weeks undetected in the state, and experts said more cases will probably be reported soon.
The state Department of Health says there are 27 confirmed cases, all in the Seattle area. The nine cases include four tied to a suburban Seattle care facility that has reported multiple virus cases and deaths.
The North Olympic Peninsula remains free of confirmed COVID-19 cases.
Clallam County Health Officer Dr. Allison Unthank said there were no confirmed COVID-19 cases in Clallam County as of Tuesday evening.
Unthank said there had been rumors of a positive case locally.
“We tested someone at OMC, and it’s caused a bit of a flurry,” Unthank said.
Two patients in Clallam County have been tested for COVID-19. One of the tests came back negative and one was still pending, Unthank said.
“I think it’s a matter of time before we have it here,” Unthank added.
“I suspect that we may well have mild cases here that we haven’t been able to test.”
Jefferson Healthcare is establishing a dedicated nurse consult line today for COVID-19 and respiratory illness.
The phone number, 360-344-3094, is intended to answer specific questions about the virus and to address exposure concerns, according to a news release.
Meanwhile, the two Chimacum Junior/Senior High School students who were in close proximity to someone with the virus will remain home pending additional tests, according to an announcement on the district’s Facebook page.
The students remained home Tuesday, Superintendent Rick Thompson said.
They had no infection and no symptoms, and they were being held out of school for precautionary reasons, the district announcement said.
School districts have ramped up sanitizing efforts, including Port Townsend and Chimacum, where all schools are receiving a deep cleaning and buses are being disinfected with increased frequency.
One event directly impacted is the Jefferson County Home Show, which has postponed its Saturday event at Blue Heron Middle School in Port Townsend and rescheduled for April 25.
Port Townsend School District Superintendent John Polm said there were concerns about a large number of attendees and required additional cleaning.
“We don’t want people to panic,” said Liz Coker, the director of the county Home Builders Association, which coordinates the event. “The school needs to be cleaned, and we need to step back and let them do that.”
Coker was working Tuesday to secure all 45 vendors for next month.
“This could be for a really bad reason, and it’s not,” she said.
Jefferson Healthcare is attempting to dedicate a space for evaluating patients with respiratory illness and to provide testing for them, according to a news release.
“Out of an abundance of caution to protect our most medically vulnerable community members, we are discouraging unnecessary visits to the hospital, including the cafeteria, until further notice,” the release said.
Among the newly reported deaths was a man in his 50s who had been a resident of LifeCare in Kirkland, who died at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle Feb. 26. Tests later determined he died of COVID-19. Hospital spokeswoman Susan Gregg said some hospital staff may have been exposed while treating the patient but official don’t believe other patients were exposed. The hospital staff are being monitored and screened daily.
Among the new cases reported Tuesday were two men in their 20s who were hospitalized. It wasn’t known how they were exposed.
And a federal immigration field office near Tukwila closed after an employee visited the LifeCare Center. Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said the decision was made “out of an abundance of caution” and that it would remain closed for 14 days.
Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean and Reporter Rob Ollikainen contributed to this report.