Travelers Meredith Ponder, left, and Coleby Hanisch, both of Des Moines, Iowa, wear masks to remind them not to touch their faces as they ride a train at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport Tuesday, March 3, 2020, in SeaTac. Six of the 18 Western Washington residents with the coronavirus have died as health officials rush to test more suspected cases and communities brace for spread of the disease. All confirmed cases of the virus in Washington are in Snohomish and King counties. (Elaine Thompson/The Associated Press)

Travelers Meredith Ponder, left, and Coleby Hanisch, both of Des Moines, Iowa, wear masks to remind them not to touch their faces as they ride a train at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport Tuesday, March 3, 2020, in SeaTac. Six of the 18 Western Washington residents with the coronavirus have died as health officials rush to test more suspected cases and communities brace for spread of the disease. All confirmed cases of the virus in Washington are in Snohomish and King counties. (Elaine Thompson/The Associated Press)

Washington coronavirus deaths increase to 9

Olympic Peninsula remains clear of confirmed cases

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.

Washington coronavirus deaths increase to 9

Clallam County

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 County

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.

Statewide

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.

The Eastside Prep private school in Kirkland said it would have students stay home and take online classes because of virus concerns. The school for grades 5 through 12 of nearly 500 students said on its website it had no known cases or suspected cases connected to the campus, but “we do not feel it is prudent to wait until there is a known case to take action.” The school said it would conduct online classes through March 27.

Meanwhile the Northshore School District, which has about 22,000 students just north of Seattle, was closed Tuesday so its teachers could also get ready to teach remotely if the need arises. Superintendent Michelle Reid said in a letter to students’ families that the district was also making plans to help students who don’t have computers or internet access at home.

Seattle Public Schools has so far said it will not close, but is monitoring the situation.

Local and state health officials have not recommended school closures or cancellation of activities but said they respect the decisions of local school leaders.

Researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington on Sunday said they had evidence the virus may have been circulating in the state for up to six weeks undetected. If true, that could mean that there are hundreds of undiagnosed cases in the area.

________

Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean and Reporter Rob Ollikainen contributed to this report.

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