EVERETT — Its floor is now covered with curtains dividing dozens of temporary bedrooms — each with a cot, a folding chair and a night stand.
“It’s certainly not luxurious,” Snohomish County Emergency Management Director Jason Biermann said Tuesday, standing in one of the makeshift rooms at the Angel of the Winds Arena.
The downtown Everett landmark, known for ice hockey and high school graduations, is set to begin operating as the region’s new COVID-19 isolation and quarantine site Wednesday, county officials said.
The arena will provide a temporary, safe place to stay for up to 150 people who need to cut themselves off from others but have nowhere else to go. Some might be homeless. Others might have a family member at home with a compromised immune system, Biermann said.
Snohomish Health District officer Dr. Chris Spitters announced two new orders Tuesday.
One indefinitely extends a ban on public gatherings in the county. The other directs anyone with COVID-19 symptoms, or awaiting test results, should not leave isolation.
So far, there are 1,229 confirmed and 57 probable cases of the new coronavirus in Snohomish County, as well as 33 deaths. That means an estimated 2.5% of people who have been infected here have died from COVID-19, Spitters said during a video conference Tuesday.
He also reported at least two dozen long-term care facilities in the county now have one or more confirmed case of coronavirus, whether it’s a staff member or patient. On Friday, that number had been seven.
The health district is encouraging everyone who needs to quarantine or isolate themselves to do so at home, if possible.
The only exceptions would be to visit the doctor, and people should call their provider ahead of time, he said.
“For those with positive tests, you must stay home,” he said. “Try to stay in separate rooms away from others until seven days have passed since the beginning of your illness, or until three full days have passed since your fever stopped and cough began to improve, whatever is longer.”
The new quarantine and isolation site won’t accept walk-ins. Instead, anyone who stays there will do so under Spitters’ orders. The health officer will also authorize any releases from the arena, Biermann said.
“Our plan right now is to transport folks back to wherever they were initially from,” Biermann said.
Local police will provide security. Medical staff will monitor those in quarantine for symptoms. Others will be on hand to help connect anyone in need with resources, such as behavioral health treatment, Biermann said.
The main arena, where the Silvertips usually play, will serve as a quarantine site for people who have had close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. The smaller, public ice rink will be an isolation area for confirmed cases.
On Tuesday, chairs dotted the larger arena — each at least six feet apart, in accordance with social distancing standards. A few portable toilets had been placed along the floor’s edges.
County officials hope to keep the arena’s temporary tenants busy with tablets, books and telephones. Meals and other services will come from local businesses.
“The goal is to give them enough incentive that they want to stay quarantined and stay isolated,” Biermann said.
Security guards who usually work during hockey games and other events are scheduled to keep watch inside the building. The Everett Police Department and the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office will provide additional service outside.
Law enforcement and security staff will try to stop anyone who attempts to leave, Biermann said. Authorities would determine whether that person would face penalties as a result, he said.
How much it will cost to run the site largely depends on how many people must stay there and how long it’s open, Biermann said. Part of the cost has been paid by a $1.3 million grant from the state. The county will seek reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the rest, he said.
State officials are assessing other sites in the region to establish more isolation and quarantine spaces, Biermann said.
“We don’t know how many folks will end up in here,” he said. “Certainly, once it gets at half capacity or two-thirds capacity, we’d be looking at setting up another site.”
But officials expect the actual figure could be much lower, at least initially. County spokesman Kent Patton has pointed to King County, where on Friday only 12 people were reported to be staying at isolation and quarantine sites.
Snohomish County has been planning this since the first case in the country was found here in January, Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers said during the video meeting.
“It’s a little difficult to know exactly how this is going to play out,” he said. “We’re certain there will be some need. How much is yet to be seen.”
He expects each person to stay for a minimum of a few days and up to two weeks or so. The site will stay open as long as it’s needed, he said.
Dr. Gary Goldbaum, a former Snohomish Health District officer, is now in charge of medical operations at the arena.
“This is not a medical facility, it is rather a home away from home for these folks,” he said. “It’s a place where we are hoping they will feel they are able to remain for up to 14 days.”
There could be consequences for leaving quarantine and breaking the Snohomish Health District order, but patients would not immediately be taken to jail.
“That’s a last resort we’d like to try to avoid,” Spitters said. “Both for law enforcement safety, as well as introducing cases of COVID-19 into the jail — (that’s) not a very good infection-control plan.”