SEATTLE (AP) — Six people have now died from coronavirus in Washington state, health officials said Monday as a downtown Seattle skyscraper and about a dozen schools closed for cleaning amid exposure fears.
Dr. Jeff Duchin from Public Health – Seattle & King County announced the new deaths. Five people were from King County and one from Snohomish County. All died at a hospital in Kirkland.
Researchers said earlier the COVID-19 virus may have been circulating for weeks undetected in the state, and experts said more cases would likely be reported in Washington, Oregon and California as testing ramps up.
King County Executive Dow Constantine declared an emergency and said the county was buying a hotel to be used as a hospital where patients who need to be isolated can be placed to recover. Constantine said that should be available by the end of the week.
“We have moved to a new stage in the fight,” he said.
Constantine said the county was also deploying modular housing, some of which had been recently used to house Texas oil workers, to house vulnerable homeless people. Up to 100 people could be housed this way soon, he said.
“We continue to plan for all contingencies,” he said.
The F5 technology company said it was closing its 44-story tower in downtown Seattle after learning an employee had been in contact with someone who had tested positive for the virus. The employee tested negative but company spokesman Rob Gruening told The Seattle Times the tower was being closed out of an abundance of caution. More than 10 schools in the Seattle area were closed for deep cleaning over virus concerns.
Public Health – Seattle & King County said it wasn’t yet recommending school closures or cancellation of activities, but said via Twitter “this is a rapidly evolving situation.”
Washington state now has at least 16.
The first U.S. case was a Washington state man who had visited China, where the virus first emerged, but several recent cases in the U.S. have had no known connection to travelers.
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 — a finding that, if true, could mean hundreds of undiagnosed cases in the area. They posted their research online, but it 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.
“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.
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.