9 Washington virus deaths, schools to mull online classes

Coronavirus

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, right, bumps elbows with a worker at the seafood counter of the Uwajimaya Asian Food and Gift Market, Tuesday, March 3, 2020, in Seattle’s International District. Inslee said he’s doing the elbow bump with people instead of shaking hands to prevent the spread of germs, and that his visit to the store was to encourage people to keep patronizing businesses during the COVID-19 Coronavirus outbreak. Earlier in the day, following a tour at a health clinic, Inslee urged people to wash hands frequently and practice other measures of health hygiene, and to stay home from work and public events if they don’t feel well or have any symptoms of illness. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

SEATTLE (AP) — Washington state reported a total of nine coronavirus deaths Tuesday as schools in the Seattle area mulled teaching students online in the event of prolonged closures over health concerns.

The schools took the steps after researchers said the virus that causes the disease called COVID-19 may have been circulating for weeks undetected in the state. Experts said more cases will probably be reported soon.

The Washington State Department of Health says there are 27 confirmed cases, all in the Seattle area. The nine cases include four tied to a suburban Seattle care facility that has reported multiple virus cases and deaths.

Health officials in North Carolina reported Tuesday that a person from Wake County tested positive for the illness after visiting the long-term care facility in Kirkland, Washington, where many of the state’s cases originated. The person is in isolation and is doing well, according to the North Carolina health department.

Among the newly reported deaths was a man in his 50s who had been a resident of Life Care Center in Kirkland, who died at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle on Feb. 26. Tests later determined he died of COVID-19.

Hospital spokeswoman Susan Gregg said some hospital staff may have been exposed while treating the patient, but officials don’t believe other patients were exposed. The hospital staff are being monitored and screened daily.

In an updated message on the nursing home’s website, Life Care Center said it is screening workers for symptoms before they start work and as they leave. Residents with symptoms are placed in isolation. The facility is still prohibiting visits from family and has set up an email for news media questions to keep phone lines open for family members with questions.

Among the new cases reported Tuesday were two men in their 20s who were hospitalized in Issaquah. It wasn’t known how they were exposed. An Amazon employee who works in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood tested positive for the new virus, The Seattle Times reported Tuesday afternoon, citing a message from the company.

“We’re supporting the affected employee who is in quarantine,” a company spokesperson said in an emailed statement to The Associated Press.

The employee went home feeling ill on Feb. 25 and has not returned to work since, the message from Amazon to employees said. The message said Amazon was told Tuesday that the employee tested positive for COVID-19.

Other employees working in close contact with the affected employee have been notified, the message said.

A federal immigration field office near Tukwila also closed after an employee visited the Life Care Center. Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said the decision was made “out of an abundance of caution” and that it would remain closed for 14 days.

The Eastside Preperatory private school in Kirkland said it would have students stay home and do online classes because of virus concerns. The school for grades 5 through 12 of nearly 500 students said on its website it had no known cases or suspected cases connected to the campus, but “we do not feel it is prudent to wait until there is a known case to take action.” The school said it would conduct online classes through March 27.

Meanwhile the Northshore School District, which has about 22,000 students just north of Seattle, was closed Tuesday so its teachers could also get ready to teach remotely if the need arises. Superintendent Michelle Reid said in a letter to students’ families that the district was also making plans to help students who don’t have computers or internet access at home.

Seattle Public Schools has so far said it will not close, but it is monitoring the situation.

Local and state health officials have not recommended school closures or cancellation of activities but said they respect the decisions of local school leaders.

Researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington on Sunday said they had evidence the virus may have been circulating in the state for up to six weeks undetected. If true, that could mean that there are hundreds of undiagnosed cases in the area.

Officials at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport announced new protocols to help keep travelers safe. They installed more than 45 hand sanitizers throughout the airport and plan to add another 90 soon. They are also intensifying cleaning on “high-touch points,” such as handrails, elevator buttons, arm rests, doorknobs and the food court areas.

King County moved the first of 14 modular units on Tuesday to a site in White Center. They plan to house COVID-19 patients in the units so they can receive treatment in isolation.

And the state House on Tuesday unanimously passed a measure that would draw $100 million from the state’s emergency “rainy day” fund to help pay for the response.

The move by the House comes a day after Secretary of Health John Wiesman asked lawmakers for $100 million in emergency funding to deal with the growing costs of the state’s response. Wiesman said that $3.5 million has already been spent on coronavirus efforts, with $2.3 million of that being spent by the state and the remainder by local health jurisdictions. The measure now heads to the Senate, where a similar measure was introduced yesterday.

Lawmakers are working to finalize their supplemental budget plans before the Legislature adjourns March 12.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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