People over the age of 80 had a 14.8 percent mortality rate from COVID-19 in China.
People over the age of 80 had a 14.8 percent mortality rate from COVID-19 in China. Lester Black

The novel coronavirus has spread to more than 10 long-term care facilities and nursing homes in the Seattle area, creating an increasing problem for authorities as they try to limit the damage from the virus, which is particularly deadly for the elderly.

Public Health—Seattle & King County reported Tuesday that the county has 74 new confirmed cases of the virus, the largest single-day increase since the outbreak began, and the agency also confirmed COVID-19 cases at 10 different long-term care or nursing home facilities in the county. The Snohomish County Health District reported Tuesday that a facility in Stanwood had confirmed cases of the virus, too.

The new nursing home cases come after Seattle saw the country's worst outbreak of COVID-19 at a nursing home in Kirkland, where at least 18 people have died from the virus.

The new case in Snohomish County occurred at Josephine Caring Community, an assisted living facility in Stanwood. The first case was a female in her 70s who was transferred to an area hospital this past weekend and tested positive for the virus on Sunday night. Two other patients at Josephine, a female in her 90s and a man in his 80s, have also tested positive for the virus.

COVID-19 is significantly more deadly for people over the age of 60 and for people who have underlying medical problems than it is for the general population, which makes the virus's appearance at five more local nursing homes particularly concerning.

Tuesday's news comes as Gov. Jay Inslee instituted new emergency statewide regulations for nursing homes and assisted living centers. Those requirements include screening all employees for COIVD-19 symptoms at the beginning of every shift.

Terry Robertson, an executive at Josephine, said at a Tuesday press conference that the facility has been placed on lockdown with no visitors, including family members, allowed inside.

“These are incredibly tough times,” Robertson said. “I had a lady in my lobby crying yesterday because she couldn’t see her husband that she has been married to for 62 years.”

The outbreak at Josephine comes as the virus continues to infiltrate assisted living facilities in the Seattle area. COVID-19 cases have been confirmed at Aegis Living Marymoor in Redmond, the Ida Culver House in Seattle, Issaquah Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, and Life Care in Kirkland.

One resident at the Issaquah Nursing & Rehabilitation Center died this past weekend and seven other people have tested positive for the virus, including two staff members, according to a report in the New York Times on Tuesday. One resident of Seattle’s Ida Culver House, an 86-year-old man, died on Monday, according to the Seattle Times.

Life Care in Kirkland continues to be the worst hit location in the entire country when it comes to the coronavirus, with 18 of the country’s 27 deaths reported as of Tuesday morning.

Older people are far more likely to die from the disease, according to fatality rates published by the China Centers for Disease Control. The China CDC reported an overall fatality rate of 2.3 percent, but the fatality rate for people aged 10 to 39 was only 0.2 percent while the fatality rate for people aged 80 and over was 14.8 percent. Mark Parkinson, of the American Health Care Association, told the New York Times that the death rate for people over 80 could exceed 15 percent.

Dr. Chris Spitters, the interim health officer for Snohomish County, said at Tuesday’s press conference that the county currently has 54 confirmed cases, including 16 new cases as of today, and one death. Spitters said the epidemic could still be increasing and not peak for months.

“This is a rapidly evolving situation with a new virus. But there is no magic bullet, and this will not end soon,” Spitters said. “It is estimated that the outbreak will likely peak in two or three months."

Spitters added that he recognized today’s news regarding nursing homes is likely worrying to the local community and is asking the Red Cross to help provide mental health services to families affected by the Josephine case.

“We know that this news can be distressing for the family and friends with loved ones currently at Josephine or at facilities like that,” Spitters said.

Inslee's new emergency regulations for nursing homes include:

  • Visitors must be adults and the visit must take place in the resident’s room. This does not apply to end-of-life situations.

  • All visitors must follow COVID-19 screening and follow reasonable precautionary measures.

  • Precautionary measures include, but are not limited to, wearing personal protective equipment, social distancing, or visiting in designated locations.

  • All visitors must sign into a visitor’s log. Owners and operators must retain that log for 30 days.

  • Employees or volunteers must be screened for COVID-19 symptoms at the start of each shift.

  • People who live in nursing homes or assisted living facilities and who test positive for COVID-19 must be isolated away from other people.

  • Owners, operators, staff and volunteers are prohibited from disclosing protected and confidential health information, except as otherwise provided by law or with the resident’s consent.