A bottle of hand sanitizer sits in front of reporters as Gov. Jay Inslee gives updates on COVID-19 cases in Washington state on Monday in Olympia. The governor was joined by Dr. John Wiesman (left), secretary of the Washington State Department of Health and Robert Ezelle (right), director of the Washington State Department of Emergency Management. (Amanda Snyder/The Seattle Times via AP)

A bottle of hand sanitizer sits in front of reporters as Gov. Jay Inslee gives updates on COVID-19 cases in Washington state on Monday in Olympia. The governor was joined by Dr. John Wiesman (left), secretary of the Washington State Department of Health and Robert Ezelle (right), director of the Washington State Department of Emergency Management. (Amanda Snyder/The Seattle Times via AP)

10 virus deaths in state; feds to investigate nursing home

Increasingly, people are calling on government leaders to be more aggressive in containing the virus.

By Gene Johnson, Rachel La Corte and Martha Bellisle / Associated Press

SEATTLE — Federal authorities announced an investigation of the Seattle-area nursing home at the center of an outbreak of the new coronavirus as the U.S. death toll climbed to 11, including the first fatality outside Washington state.

Officials in California’s Placer County, near Sacramento, said Wednesday an elderly person who tested positive after returning from a San Francisco-to-Mexico cruise had died. The victim had underlying health problems, authorities said. California Gov. Gavin Newsom late Wednesday declared a statewide emergency due to coronavirus. Washington and Florida had already declared emergencies, and Hawaii also joined them Wednesday.

Washington also announced another death, bringing its total to 10, one of which was a Snohomish County resident.

Most of those who died were residents of Life Care Center, a nursing home in Kirkland, a suburb east of Seattle. At least 39 cases of infection have been reported in the Seattle area, nine in Snohomish County. Researchers say the virus may have been circulating undetected for weeks. Vice President Mike Pence was expected to meet with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee near Olympia on Thursday.

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.

Meanwhile, public officials in Washington came under pressure to take more aggressive steps against the outbreak, including closing schools and canceling large events. While the state and Seattle have declared emergencies, giving leaders broad powers to suspend activities, they have not issued any orders to do so.

“We have encouraged people who are responsible for large gatherings to give consideration whether it really makes sense to carry those on right now,” Gov. Jay Inslee said. “Right now, we are deferring to the judgment … of these organizations.”

While some individual schools and businesses have shut down, the governor said large-scale school closings have not 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 responsibilities.

Local and state health officials have not recommended school closings unless the schools have had a confirmed case of the disease.

“School closures have been part of the pandemic response kit for a long time,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Seattle and King County. “We don’t have strong evidence about how important school closures are.”

Jennifer Hayles, 41, of Kirkland, said she was appalled that Inslee and health officials haven’t canceled next week’s Emerald City Comic Con. The four-day cosplay and pop-culture event draws close to 100,000 people each year, and some participants, including D.C. Comics and Penguin Random House, have pulled out over the virus.

Hayles said she spent hundreds of dollars on tickets and other items related to the event but will have to skip it because she has a compromised immune system.

“There’s a lot of people who are talking about the economic cost of people forced to pull out of Comic Con, but if we have an explosion of cases of coronavirus, the economic cost is going to be much higher,” Hayles said.

Comic Con’s organizer, Reedpop, announced Wednesday that it would make an exception to its no-refunds policy for those who want their money back, but said it remained committed to holding the event unless local, state or federal officials change their guidance.

Lakshmi Unni said that she was keeping her son, an eighth-grader at Redmond Middle School in Seattle’s eastern suburbs, home on Wednesday and that she had urged the school board and principal to close.

“Yesterday at least three kids were coughing,” Unni said. “We don’t know if they were sick with the virus, but if they do become sick, the chances of spreading are very, very high.”

Some schools, businesses and other employers aren’t waiting.

Seattle and King County public health officials urged businesses to allow employees to work remotely if possible, and the county said it will allow telecommuting for some of its workers for the next three weeks.

The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle announced it is canceling events at the complex and requiring nonessential staff to work remotely at least through the end of the month to lessen the chance of infection among patients with weakened immune systems.

School officials in Renton, south of Seattle, announced that Hazen High School will close for the rest of the week after a student tested positive for the coronavirus. Online petitions urged officials to close other schools on Seattle’s east side.

The F5 technology company closed its 44-story tower in downtown Seattle after learning an employee had been in contact with someone who tested positive for the virus. Outdoor recreation giant REI shut down its Seattle-area operations for two days as a precaution.

Health officials in North Carolina reported that a person from Wake County tested positive for the illness after visiting the nursing home. The patient’s flight from the Seattle area to the Raleigh-Durham airport raised fears other passengers were exposed to the virus.

“My understanding is we have the manifest. Now the trick is to go find them,” said Robert Redfield of the CDC.

Life Care Center said on its website that it is screening employees for symptoms before they start work and as they leave. The nursing home is prohibiting visits from residents’ family members.

Shortly before the California death was announced, Princess Cruise Lines notified passengers of its Grand Princess that federal health officials are investigating a “small cluster” of coronavirus cases connected to the ship’s mid-February voyage. It asked current passengers to stay in their cabins until they were cleared by medical staff and said those who had been on the previous voyage should contact their doctor if they develop fever or other symptoms.

The Grand Princess is at sea off Mexico and will return early to San Francisco, where CDC and company officials will meet to determine the course of action, the cruise line said. California planned to fly COVID-19 testing kits out to the ship, which won’t be allowed to dock until the test results are completed, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday.

In Los Angeles, a contract medical worker who was conducting screenings at the city’s main airport has tested positive for the virus. The person wore protective equipment while on the job so it was unclear how the worker contracted the virus, Homeland Security officials said.

In New York, health officials put hundreds of residents in self-quarantine after members of two families in the New York City suburb of New Rochelle were diagnosed with the virus. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the disease appeared to have spread from a lawyer to his wife, two children, a neighbor and two others.

The new results brought the number of confirmed cases in the state to 11.

Associated Press Writer Carla K. Johnson in Seattle contributed to this report.

Talk to us

More in Northwest

Logo for news use, for stories regarding Washington state government — Olympia, the Legislature and state agencies. No caption necessary. 20220331
Washington’s low-income tax credit available for first time

Up to $1,200 is now available for thousands of low-income working Washington residents, thanks to a 2008 law that has finally been funded.

News logo for use with stories about coronavirus COVID-19 COVID
Washington state Gov. Inslee tests positive for COVID-19

“Once again I am very appreciative to be vaccinated and boosted,” Inslee said in the statement.

Logo for news use, for stories regarding Washington state government — Olympia, the Legislature and state agencies. No caption necessary. 20220331
Lobbyist barred from WA Capitol after ruling he stalked representative

State Rep. Lauren Davis, D-Shoreline, obtained a domestic violence protective order against longtime lobbyist Cody Arledge.

NO CAPTION. Logo to accompany news of Washington state.
Democrats in Washington state choose Conrad as new leader

The Washington State Democratic Party has chosen Shasti Conrad, the former leader of King County Democrats, as its new chair.

Logo for news use featuring Whidbey Island in Island County, Washington. 220118
Port of Coupeville to make offer on Oak Harbor airport

The Port of Coupeville continues to pursue ownership of the A.J. Eisenberg Airport near Oak Harbor.

FILE - In this Monday, March 23, 2020, file photo, a worker walks near a mural of a Boeing 777 airplane at the company's manufacturing facility in Everett, Wash., north of Seattle. Beginning in 2024, some 737 planes will be built in Everett, the company announced to workers on Monday. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
With 747 out, Boeing to open new 737 Max line at Everett’s Paine Field

Since the last 747 rolled out of the factory, speculation has been rife that Boeing might move some 737 Max production to Everett.

NO CAPTION. Logo to accompany news of Seattle.
Seattle could broaden anti-discrimination law to add caste

Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant wants to add caste to the city’s anti-discrimination policy.

FILE - In this file photo dated Monday, March 11, 2019, rescuers work at the scene of an Ethiopian Airlines plane crash south of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  The number of deaths in major air crashes around the globe fell by more than half in 2019 according to a report released Wednesday Jan. 1, 2020, by the aviation consultancy To70, revealing the worst crash for the year was an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX on March 10 that lost 157 lives. (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene, FILE)
US board says Boeing Max likely hit a bird before 2019 crash

U.S. accident investigators disagree with Ethiopian authorities over the cause of a 2019 Boeing 737 Max crash.

CORRECTS DAY TO TUESDAY IN SECOND REFERENCE - This surveillance video image released by the Yakima Police Department shows a suspect sought in a shooting at a convenience store in Yakima, Wash., early on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. At least three people were killed in a random shooting Tuesday, in Yakima, and police are still searching for the suspect. (Yakima Police Department via AP).
Suspect in Yakima triple-killing shot, killed self

A 21-year-old man wanted in the random killing of three people in Yakima early Tuesday shot and killed himself.

Kevin Flynn, right, a meat-cutter with the Marysville Albertsons, hands a leaflet to a shopper during an informational campaign on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022. Flynn was one of about a dozen grocery store workers handing out leaflets to shoppers about the proposed merger between Albertsons and Kroger. (Mike Henneke / The Herald)
WA Supreme Court clears way for Albertsons’ $4 billion dividend

The case was the final obstacle to the dividend after a federal judge in Washington, D.C., rejected similar efforts.

Photo
Beard photo in Whidbey Island exhibit hits a snarl

A photography show has come under scrutiny due to an image of a man dressed as a female pirate.

Photo by Karina Andrew/Whidbey News-Times
Former VA-115 member Jack Keegan speaks at a presentation on base commemorating the last crew from NAS Whidbey Island shot down during the Vietnam War.
Whidbey Island air base honors crew lost in Vietnam War

NAS Whidbey Island will host several upcoming events commemorating the end of the Vietnam War.