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Washington virus deaths hit 16; 1/3 of Life Care staff sick

                                An ambulance backs into a parking lot Friday at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Wash.


    An ambulance backs into a parking lot Friday at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Wash.

SEATTLE >> The number of deaths linked to coronavirus in Washington state has reached 16, officials said today, but even more might be attributed based on figures released by the nursing home at the center of the outbreak.

The two most recent deaths occurred on Friday, health officials said. One was a woman in her 70s, the other a woman in her 80s. Both were residents of Life Care Center of Kirkland, the nursing home that has been the epicenter of the outbreak and connected to 14 of the deaths.

The nursing home held its first media briefing today, announcing that since Feb. 19, 26 residents have died. It is an acute care facility where about three to seven residents die in a typical month, it said in a written statement.

Most of the patients died at hospitals, where they were tested: 13 of 15 who died at hospitals had the new coronavirus. But 11 died at the nursing home, and Life Care said it had no information about post-mortem tests to see whether any of them had the disease.

A team of 30 medical professionals from the U.S. Public Health Service began arriving at Life Care over the weekend to relieve exhausted — and ill — staff.

In its statement today, Life Care said 70 of its 180 employees have shown COVID-19 symptoms and are no longer working. The facility said that it has 63 residents remaining — down from 120 before the outbreak — and that six of them have symptoms.

“We would like to extend our sincere thanks to the various government agencies for the staffing help that arrived today,” the company said. “We now have several extra nurses, two nurse practitioners and one doctor.”

King County Executive Dow Constantine also expressed appreciation. “We are grateful the cavalry is coming,” he said Friday.

People in senior housing are considered especially susceptible because the disease caused by the new coronavirus is especially dangerous to the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.

Meanwhile staff at two other Seattle-area senior communities dealt with their first reported cases. Two senior communities — the Ida Culver House Ravenna, a retirement home in northeast Seattle, and the Issaquah Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in suburban Issaquah, reported one case each.

The Ida Culver House resident has been hospitalized since Wednesday, said the retirement community’s operator, Era Living. The facility has since doubled its disinfection and cleaning practices for common areas, canceled events, asked staff who were in contact with the patient to stay home, and canceled dining room meals — instead delivering food to its approximately 90 residents.

The Issaquah nursing home resident was hospitalized on Tuesday. Three firefighters who responded there have been quarantined but haven’t shown any symptoms, Issaquah Mayor Mary Lou Pauly said.

The Department of Health released the updated number of cases today, saying there are now 102 COVID-19 cases across the state — a figure that did not include the first case in Kittitas County in central Washington, which was reported today.

The bulk of the cases are in King County, where 15 of the deaths have been reported in what remains the nation’s worst outbreak.

Besides Kittitas, Jefferson, Pierce, Grant and Clark counties have announced their first cases in recent days. More than two dozen have been reported in Snohomish County.

Precautions and preparations continued on a number of other fronts, with the University of Washington, Seattle University and Seattle Pacific University announcing that classes will be taught online for the rest of the winter quarter. Starbucks closed a downtown Seattle store after a worker tested positive. A number of large events, including Emerald City Comic Con, have been canceled.

King County was setting up trailers at several sites to care for quarantined patients and purchased an 84-room motel in Kent for $4 million for that purpose. Kent sued on Friday to temporarily block the county from placing patients there, saying officials had not addressed the city’s public health concerns. A Superior Court judge rejected that request with conditions, saying the county could move 15 people into the motel for now.

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