The nursing home in Kirkland that's at the center of the local outbreak of cases.
The nursing home in Kirkland that's at the center of the local outbreak of cases. Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images
The fight against coronavirus in the Seattle area entered a “new stage” Monday as the number of deaths increased over the weekend from zero to six and health experts warned that the number of local cases would likely increase rapidly. The county is preparing to buy a motel and new modular housing units to house individuals infected with the virus.

“This morning we are in final negotiations to purchase a motel in which we can place patients in who are in need of isolation and a place to recover,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine at a press conference Monday morning. Constantine did not disclose the motel’s location.

King County is at the center of America’s novel coronavirus outbreak, which is known as COVID-19, with six people already dead from the virus. The known outbreak appears to be concentrated at Life Care Center, a senior living center in Kirkland, and a nearby hospital called EvergreenHealth Medical Center.

"As of this morning at EvergreenHealth we have six deaths [that have tested] positive for coronavirus," said Ettore G. Palazzo, a doctor at EvergreenHealth in Kirkland, at a press conference Monday morning.

The total number of deaths caused confusion at Monday's morning press conference, as Jeff Duchin, an officer with the county's health department, first reported the death toll as five, only to have Palazzo state, just minutes later, that the death toll had increased to six.

"What you just heard illustrates the challenge of this disease," Duchin said. "The public health system and the clinical health system do not have the capacity to track down every case of the influenza in the community, and we are probably going to have more cases of coronavirus than we do of influenza over the next few weeks and months."

Duchin said the county health system did have the capacity to treat patients but said the outbreak may be changing from "containment" of the virus to community management of the outbreak.

"The risk for all of us for getting an infection is increasing," Duchin said at a news conference Monday. "We expect the number of cases to rise in the coming weeks and we are taking this situation extremely seriously."

The first and second American death from COVID-19 both happened in Kirkland a suburb of Seattle. A 50-year-old died on Friday from coronavirus at Kirkland’s EvergreenHealth and officials announced a second death, a man in his 70s at the same hospital, on Sunday.

Officials on Monday announced four more deaths, including two females in their 80s, a male in his 70s, and a female in her 70s; all four were residents of LifeCare, according to Duchin.

John Wiesman, DOH’s secretary of health, told a Senate committee in Olympia Monday that 231 people are currently under direct supervision.

“It is a very dynamic situation and moving quickly and the risk in Washington is certainly increasing,” Wiesman said.

Nearly 90,000 have tested positive for COVID-19 globally and over 3,000 people have died, with the majority of those cases and deaths occurring in China where the outbreak originated.

Testing capacity expands
Authorities have identified 88 cases of the novel coronavirus in the U.S. as of Monday morning, although that number is likely to rise sharply as more Americans are tested for the virus. There are currently 14 cases in King County, according to the county’s public health department.

Genetic testing of two COVID-19 cases in Washington showed evidence that the virus has been spreading in the Seattle region unnoticed for six weeks, according to genetic testing conducted by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

The genetic testing, according to tweets from one Fred Hutch researcher, showed that a COVID-19 case that was documented over the weekend was closely related to an earlier case from Jan. 19. That is an “enormous implication” that the virus has been spreading for six weeks, according to the researcher, Trevor Bedford.

Bedford said earlier research showed the number of cases doubles every week and blamed the unidentified spread on too little testing for the virus.

It wasn’t clear Monday what the state’s testing capacity for COVID-19 currently is. Weisman, the state secretary of health, said Monday morning in Olympia that the state’s lab can currently process up to 100 same-day tests per day. Duchin said at Seattle’s Monday press conference that the state could test for “hundreds” a day and would soon have capacity over 1,000. While Kathy Lofy, the state’s health officer at DOH, said at Seattle’s press conference the state could test for “a couple hundred a day,” and the University of Washington would soon expand the testing capacity.

“The University of Washington is going to start testing for COVID-19, either today or tomorrow, and that will add tremendous capacity for testing,” Lofy said.

Some schools close but no travel restrictions, yet

Over a dozen schools in the suburbs of Seattle were closed Monday while officials said they are beginning to consider the possibility that some large events could be canceled or even travel restrictions could be placed on certain areas.

“We should be prepared for disruptions in the community if we tell people not to go to work or school, there are so many unknowns in this outbreak right now,” Duchin said Monday. “But we are not recommending widespread cancelations of gatherings or closing of schools.”

Lynne Miller, a spokesperson for the King County Emergency Operations Center, told The Stranger that the county is “not there yet” when it comes to placing any travel restrictions on areas with a COVID-19 outbreak.

“The messaging continues to be all of that good hygiene and if you’re sick stay home. So that we can contain the virus and not have further outbreaks,” Miller said.

Almost a dozen local schools in Seattle’s suburbs were closed Monday for deep cleaning, including schools in Kent, Mill Creek, and the Lake Washington Institute of Technology in Kirkland. Although the Seattle Public Schools (SPS) did not close any buildings. An SPS spokesperson told The Stranger that the district was taking precautions but they did not yet know of any students or staff who have COVID-19 or came in contact with someone who has the virus.

The Northshore School District in Bothell plans to close all schools Tuesday. The Mukilteo School District in south Snohomish County shut down one elementary school and one high school Monday for “some deep cleaning and disinfecting,” after a parent of one student was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Sunday, according to the district.

Lake Washington School District, which is located in Kirkland near where the first two American deaths from COVID-19 were reported, did not close any schools Monday, saying that the Washington State Department of Health had not yet recommended closing schools.

Employers in the Seattle area appear to not immediately be closing their offices Monday morning. F5 Tower downtown closed Monday after the company found that one employee had been in contact with an individual who has COVID-19.

A spokesperson for Microsoft, which employs over 53,000 people in Redmond, which borders Kirkland, said they were not currently shutting down their campus.

“We are providing real-time guidance to employees in all affected regions. We will continue to monitor the situation and take action as necessary to help protect employees,” the spokesperson said in an e-mail.