Dr Chris Spitters (center), interim health officer, makes his address Monday evening during a special meeting of the Snohomish Health District Board of Health at the Administration Building in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Dr Chris Spitters (center), interim health officer, makes his address Monday evening during a special meeting of the Snohomish Health District Board of Health at the Administration Building in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

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Mariner High School closure related to coronavirus death

It was the first death tied to COVID-19 in Snohomish County. Hundreds more cases may be undiagnosed.

EVERETT — The reality that novel coronavirus is frightening, deadly and lurking at the front door was evident Monday in the empty parking lots at Mariner and Henry M. Jackson high schools.

The campuses are 2¼ miles apart and home to nearly 4,600 students. Both were closed Monday.

At Jackson, a student was diagnosed with the virus Friday, leading district officials to close the school for a deep cleaning.

At Mariner, a close contact of a student became infected with the virus and died, the Snohomish Health District said Monday. The man in his 40s had been in critical condition Sunday at EvergreenHealth Medical Center in Kirkland. Mukilteo School District said Mariner was closed because of a student’s parent testing positive for COVID-19.

Two other elementary schools — Discovery in south Everett and Frank Love in Bothell — also were closed Monday. The Marysville School District reported Monday evening it planned to close Grove Elementary and the Early Childhood Learning Center on Tuesday, because an adult who has been at both schools tested positive for the virus and was hospitalized.

As of Monday evening, there were four known cases of coronavirus in Snohomish County. Earlier in the day, a woman in her 40s with underlying health conditions became Snohomish County’s fourth case. Officials did not say where she was hospitalized.

Earlier this year, Snohomish County became home to the nation’s first case of the virus, known as COVID-19. That man initially was hospitalized at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett on Jan. 20 and fully recovered.

Ten other Snohomish County residents have tested negative and results for eight others are pending, the Snohomish Health District reported Monday evening.

“We imagine there are many more,” said Dr. Chris Spitters, health officer for the Snohomish Health District. He said there could be several hundred.

Statewide, the total number of confirmed cases was at least 27, including nine deaths.

Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday expressed his condolences to the families of the people who have died after contracting the virus.

The loss of life, he said, is felt “profoundly across the state of Washington and nationally I believe as well.”

Fear and caution could be found in attendance records at schools in the Everett School District where the absenteeism rate typically ranges from 5% to 15% at this time of year. On Monday, those rates were 8% to 31%.

There has been plenty of national interest in the local outbreak. Everett schools Superintendent Ian B. Saltzman and Jackson Principal Dave Peters spent a few minutes on air talking with CNN News anchor Wolf Blitzer about the district’s efforts to address health and safety issues.

It’s believed the Jackson student caught the virus through community contact. He had not traveled to areas under watch. He was placed in isolation to recover at home.

Four other students who had contact with the student are being monitored and quarantined off school grounds.

Some consumers flocked to stores to stash disinfectants, toilet paper and bottled water.

Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers announced Monday that he intends to declare a local emergency “as soon as we coordinate with our partners.”

“I am taking this step to ensure we are nimble and can respond should the progression of the disease have more widespread impacts,” he said in a statement.

Such a declaration can give the county access to additional state and federal resources if needed. So far, the county health district estimated it has spent $125,000 on efforts to contain the virus and that costs could exceed $700,000 over the next six months.

County Councilmember Stephanie Wright tried to allay fears, but acknowledged that “this is an unsettling time for everyone in Snohomish County.”

Toll rising

In King County, the toll rose to five deaths after two women and a man with COVID-19 died Sunday. They were in their 70s and 80s, and two were residents of Life Care Center, a long-term care facility in Kirkland where an outbreak was identified after several people became ill. Of the state’s nine coronavirus-related deaths, four were Life Care Center residents.

All of the deaths, the first in the nation, involved patients at EvergreenHealth Medical Center. The hospital’s critical care unit was converted to negative pressure as a precaution against airborne pathogens, chief medical and quality officer Dr. Ettore Palazzo said.

The state increased its capacity to test for the virus, and the State Public Health Laboratory processes 200 specimens a day, said Dr. Kathy Lofy, state health officer at the Washington Department of Health. Combined with other labs, including one at the University of Washington, the state could process 1,000 tests daily.

When the virus first was identified in Washington, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation was to test people with the most serious illness. As tests become more available, state health officials said the number of patients likely will rise.

“The more we look for it, the more we’re going to find it,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer at Public Health – Seattle and King County.

Public response

For an estimated 80% of people who catch the virus, the common symptoms will be mild and easily confused with influenza: aches, congestion, dry cough, fever, tiredness. Like the flu, the infection can become dire for people with existing health problems or those older than 60.

“We know that the vast majority of people who are going to be infected by this virus will not have serious illness,” Seattle and King County Public Health director Patty Hayes said. “But those who do, our health care workers will do and are doing everything to help manage patients in need. In turn, we need to do everything to help those healthcare workers.”

Some basic hygiene will go a long way to limit the spread or risk of catching the virus, state health experts said. That includes regular handwashing or use of alcohol sanitizer; covering coughs and sneezes; and staying home if you’re sick or around someone who is.

Echoing a plea from the U.S. surgeon general, Hayes said people should not buy face masks unless they are ill. Healthy people shouldn’t use them unless they’re treating someone who is sick, she said.

All Harbour Pointe Everett Clinic visitors were required to wear face masks Monday morning in Mukilteo. A worker at the entrance showed how to properly put on the mask. Some people were waiting in cars, wearing masks and talking to workers through the car window.

It is not yet known how long the virus survives on surfaces, according to the World Health Organization. It could persist for a few hours or several days, depending on conditions.

As a precaution, some schools in Everett and Mukilteo got a deep clean.

In addition to regular cleaning per state health recommendations, Mukilteo School District spokeswoman Diane Bradford said custodians were asked to clean doorknobs, handles, light switches, cafeteria tables, kitchen counters and floors, locker rooms, desks and chairs at all of the district’s buildings.

They have also ordered extra gloves and other supplies for custodial team members and are expanding the number of kits normally provided for schools in preparation for flu season,” Bradford said.

Technology staffers were cleaning electronic devices, keyboards, mice and tablets at Mariner and Discovery elementary schools. Facilities staff also provided extra cleaning supplies for school buses.

Public transportation agencies in Snohomish County took similar precautions.

Community Transit didn’t change its cleaning procedure, which includes a weekly deep clean and wipe-down of high-touch areas by a contracted vendor, spokesperson Martin Munguia said. The agency provided hand sanitizer stations for its drivers at the Everett operating base.

Everett Transit’s regular cleaning includes a daily wipe of all surfaces, but city spokesman Julio Cortes said maintenance staff were taking more time to sanitize contact surfaces on its vehicles.

Sound Transit crews were focused on “high touch” areas such as elevator buttons, escalators and handrails.

Tips

• Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

• Avoid touching eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.

• Avoid contact with people who are sick.

• Stay home while sick and avoid close contact with others.

• Cover mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, then throw the tissue in the trash and wash hands.

This story has been modified to update the number of fatalities to nine.

Jerry Cornfield contributed to this story.

Andrea Brown: abrown@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3443. Twitter: @reporterbrown.

Ben Watanabe: bwatanabe@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3037. Twitter: @benwatanabe.

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