SEATTLE — Washington state on Wednesday reported a 10th coronavirus death and Gov. Jay Inslee said he was evaluating whether to order widespread closures and cancellations due to the outbreak.
The state Department of Health released updated figures showing nine people had died in King County, the state’s most populous county, and one in Snohomish County. The state has now reported 39 COVID-19 cases, all in the greater Seattle area.
Of the 10 new King County cases announced Wednesday, nine were associated with a Kirkland nursing home that has seen the bulk of the illnesses and deaths, including a woman in her 90s who died Tuesday.
Dr. Jeff Duchin, public health officer in Seattle and King County, said two doctors had been deployed to Life Center in Kirkland to help staff during the “unprecedented outbreak” in the region.
“This is a very stressful situation for the families of the residents of the center,” he told reporters. “We have a CDC team that has been on site … at Life Care providing infection control guidance.”
Federal authorities Wednesday announced an investigation of the nursing home.
Seema Verma, head of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said the agency is sending inspectors to Life Care along with experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to figure out what happened and determine whether the nursing home followed guidelines for preventing infections.
Last April, the state fined Life Care $67,000 over infection-control deficiencies following two flu outbreaks that affected 17 patients and staff. An unannounced follow-up inspection in June determined that Life Care had corrected the problems, Verma said.
Vice President Mike Pence plans to meet Thursday with Inslee and other state officials about the response to the virus during a visit to the state.
“We continue to be very grateful and very impressed with Washington state’s efforts,” Pence said.
Seattle area schools were mulling 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. Experts said more cases will probably be reported.
More than 20 schools in the Puget Sound area have closed for at least a day for cleaning prompted by coronavirus concerns, according to the Washington superintendent of public instruction.
Renton school officials announced Tuesday that Hazen High School would close for the rest of the week after a student tested positive for coronavirus. The school will be closed “as they work to determine who, if anybody, came in contact with the ill student to ensure it is safe for students and staff to return to school,” the district said on the school’s website. The student was home recovering.
Seattle Public Schools has so far said the district would not close, but it was monitoring the situation.
King County Executive Dow Constantine said businesses were encouraged to implement telecommuting and that the county would use the practice with some workers for the next three weeks. He acknowledged. however, that many government workers such as police and bus drivers don’t have that option.
He also said community groups should avoid creating large gatherings of more than 10 people. “The main message is, if you don’t have to be in close contact with others — 6 feet — don’t be,” Duchin said.
Inslee said that for now, he was deferring to the judgment of organizations on whether large gatherings or events should be canceled.
“I believe all leaders who are involved in large events should seriously consider the risk associated with this,” he said.
“I will not be afraid to make that decision if it becomes the right thing for the state of Washington,” he said.
He also said wide scale school closures hadn’t been ordered because “there are so many ramifications for families and businesses,” especially for health care workers who might not be able to go to work because of child care issues.
Inslee took a tour Wednesday of a potential quarantine site in Centralia, about 20 miles south of Olympia, where eight RVs were set up to receive people if needed. Four of the RVs could be used for isolating people who have symptoms, and four could be used to quarantine people who have been exposed but are not sick.