An airport agent who declined to be identified wears a protective mask as she waits to assist international travelers at Sea-Tac International Airport last week. The new coronavirus may have been circulating for weeks undetected in Washington, health officials say. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

An airport agent who declined to be identified wears a protective mask as she waits to assist international travelers at Sea-Tac International Airport last week. The new coronavirus may have been circulating for weeks undetected in Washington, health officials say. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Another death and another Snohomish County coronavirus case

In a sign of growing anxiety, three schools were closed Monday as a precaution.

Associated Press and Herald staff

EVERETT — A third Snohomish County case of coronavirus was confirmed Sunday amid news of six others in King County, including a second virus-related death.

The Snohomish Health District said the latest diagnosis was for a man in his 40s who was in critical condition at EvergreenHealth in Kirkland. That case led Monday to the closure of two schools in the Mukilteo School District because the man had “close contact” with a student.

The man’s infection is believed to be an instance of community transmission, the health district said, which means he didn’t have a travel history related to the health crisis’ supposed origins in Wuhan, China.

Meanwhile, a man in his 70s, who had underlying health conditions and was hospitalized at EvergreenHealth, died Saturday, according to Public Health—Seattle and King County.

King County health officials said six new people there were diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus. All of the living patients, in their 60s to 90s, were in critical condition. Four of them lived at LifeCare in Kirkland, had existing health problems and were in critical condition at EvergreenHealth.

Those cases brought the total to at least 12 in the state, three of which are confirmed cases in Snohomish County, including a Jackson High School student that resulted in school being closed Monday for cleaning.

School closures

As anxiety over the virus grew, the Northshore and Mukilteo school districts closed schools for cleaning Monday, as well.

The Mukilteo district said that the parent of a student at Mariner High School — the man named as the county’s third COVID-19 case — was diagnosed on Sunday, but the student was not exhibiting symptoms. The student also visited Discovery Elementary School last week, the school district said, so both schools were closed Monday for cleaning as a precaution.

And the Northshore School District said it closed Frank Love Elementary School in Bothell as a precaution for cleaning Monday because a staffer there developed flu-like symptoms. Bothell High School was closed two days last week for a similar reason, although the test for the family member of a staffer there came back negative.

“Closing Frank Love is the prudent thing to do when we are considering the health of our students and staff as well as our entire community,” Northshore Superintendent Michelle Reid said in a letter to parents.

And all Northshore schools will be closed Tuesday “so we can provide training to staff to engage students in remote learning that may take place outside the four walls of their classrooms should this become necessary in the coming days.”

“I believe that the thoughtful and prudent approach is to strategically plan our shift to the possibility of remote school learning,” Reid said.

Circulating for weeks

The coronavirus may have been circulating for weeks undetected in Washington, a preliminary finding that could mean hundreds of undiagnosed cases in the state that had the nation’s first confirmed infection and first COVID-19 related death, researchers said Sunday after analyzing genetic samples of the pathogens.

State and local authorities stepped up testing for the illness as the number of new cases grew nationwide, with new infections also announced in Illinois and Rhode Island.

A man in his 50s died in Washington on Saturday, and health officials said 50 more people in a nursing facility in Kirkland were sick and being tested for the virus.

The latest developments came a little more than a month after the first confirmed U.S. diagnosis was a Snohomish County man who traveled to China. He fully recovered.

Empty shelves at stores

Concern about the disease, which health experts say is a mild illness that does not require hospitalization for 80% of cases, prompted people to clear out stores around the region of their disinfecting wipes, face masks and hand sanitizer. Other supplies stashed ahead and during emergencies, such as bottled water and toilet paper, were in short supply as well.

At the Lynnwood Costco, every spot in the parking lot was taken by noon Saturday, and the store sold out of hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. Workers outside used wipes to clean handles on shopping carts that jammed aisles inside and backed up checkout lines.

People could be heard talking about the coronavirus, which has symptoms similar to the common flu such as cough, fever and shortness of breath that appear between two and 14 days after exposure.

The Everett Costco was low on facial tissue and out of regular bottled water and its Kirkland Signature toilet paper Sunday. Water was a hot commodity there, where a reporter heard 20 people ask if the store had any within five minutes. A sign near the entrance said “(Kirkland Signature) water sold out, shipment in tomorrow” and “KS TP sold out, shipment on Tuesday.”

The Safeway on Rucker in Everett was out of hand sanitizer but had plenty of bleach, disinfectant wipes and toilet paper.

Other stores, such as Walgreens in Everett and Mukilteo, were sold out of face masks, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. In about 10 minutes, two customers were heard asking if the Broadway Walgreens had face masks. A note taped to a register said the store would have the products stocked in a week.

The Snohomish County Health District’s board of directors is scheduled to be briefed about the coronavirus at 5 p.m. Monday. The briefing can be streamed online at www.facebook.com/SnohomishHealth.

Forget the masks

The U.S. Surgeon General’s Office urged people to stop buying masks in a Tweet posted Saturday.

“Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS! They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!”

The best way to prevent catching coronavirus is to avoid exposure to it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Everyday proper hygiene, including covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue, properly washing hands with hot water and soap and staying home when sick, can help as well. The CDC also does not recommend people who are well wear a face mask, which should instead be worn by people who show symptoms.

Elsewhere, authorities announced Sunday a third case in Illinois and Rhode Island’s first case. The hospitalized patient in Rhode Island is a man in his 40s who had traveled to Italy in February.

As the fallout continued, Vice President Mike Pence and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar sought to reassure the American public that the federal government is working to make sure state and local authorities are able to test for COVID-19. Both said during a round of TV talk show appearances Sunday that thousands more testing kits had been distributed to state and local officials, with thousands more to come.

“They should know we have the best public health system in the world looking out for them,” Azar said, adding that additional cases will be reported and the overall risk to Americans is low.

As Americans prepared, researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington on Sunday said they had evidence that COVID-19 may have been circulating in the state for up to six weeks undetected — a finding that, if true, could mean hundreds of undiagnosed cases in the area. The research was not published in a scientific journal or reviewed by other scientists.

Trevor Bedford, an associate professor who announced the preliminary findings on the virus in Washington state, said on Twitter late Saturday that genetic similarities between the state’s first case on Jan. 20 and a case announced Friday indicated the newer case may have descended from the earlier one. The Jan. 20 case was the first known case in the U.S.

“I believe we’re facing an already substantial outbreak in Washington State that was not detected until now due to narrow case definition requiring direct travel to China,” he said on Twitter.

Bedford did not immediately reply to an e-mail requesting an interview Sunday.

Scientists not affiliated with the research said the results did not necessarily surprise them and pointed out that for many people — especially younger, healthier ones — the symptoms are not much worse than a flu or bad cold.

“We think that this has a pretty high rate of mild symptoms and can be asymptomatic,” said Justin Lessler, an associated professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “The symptoms are pretty non-specific and testing criteria has been pretty strict, so those combinations of factors means that it easily could have been circulating for a bit without us knowing.”

Pence, named by the president to be the point-person overseeing the government’s response, said more than 15,000 virus testing kits had been released over the weekend. And, the administration is working with a commercial provider to distribute 50,000 more, he said.

The vice president said testing was among the first issues raised by governors he’s spoken with so far. Several states have begun their own testing, including Washington state, Oregon and Illinois.

Azar said more than 3,600 people already have been tested for coronavirus and the capability exists to test 75,000 people. He forecast a “radical expansion of that” in the coming weeks.

Pence and Azar spoke a day after President Donald Trump approved new restrictions on international travel to prevent the spread within the U.S. of the new virus, which originated in China. There are now more than 80,000 cases worldwide and about 3,000 deaths.

Two Americans are now known to have died of the virus, one in Washington state and one in China.

The new U.S. travel restrictions apply to Iran, although travel there by Americans already is severely limited, as well as heavily affected regions of Italy and South Korea. Trump tweeted Sunday that any travelers from those countries will be screened when they arrive in the U.S.

The number of known coronavirus cases in the U.S. had reached 70 as of Sunday.

Compiled from Carla Johnson and Gillian Flaccus with The Associated Press. Herald writers Andrea Brown and Ben Watanabe contributed.

This story has been updated to make clear that a case of infection reported by the Mukilteo School District might not be a new one.

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