Seattle-area nursing home deaths jump to 13 with COVID-19 and 11 of unknown causes
Thirteen residents of a Seattle-area nursing home who died amid a coronavirus outbreak tested positive for COVID-19, three more than announced previously, according to a spokesman who described conditions Saturday at the facility as far more dire than had been disclosed earlier.
Eleven additional residents have died in the facility since Feb. 19, but their causes of death are not yet known, Life Care Center of Kirkland spokesman Timothy Killian told reporters at the home’s first news conference since the outbreak began.
An additional six residents of the skilled-nursing facility have symptoms consistent with the illness, but as of the news conference not enough test kits had been delivered to diagnose all 63 people still inside, Killian added.
He said in a statement later Saturday that the nursing facility had received enough kits that afternoon from the Washington State Department of Health to test all remaining residents for COVID-19.
Killian said that tests were underway, but didn’t say whether the facility had received enough kits to test staff members as well.
Health workers want to test all residents, who are confined in their rooms, as well as staff, he said, adding that he wasn’t aware of any employees who had been tested by their own doctors.
Seventy employees who have symptoms consistent with COVID-19 and are quarantined in their homes may not have been tested either, he said.
In a typical month, between three and seven residents die of various causes, he said. The nursing home has no information yet on autopsy results that will determine whether the 11 additional residents who died there were infected with coronavirus, he said.
Killian said that in all, 26 residents had died since Feb. 19, the date that the first patient was hospitalized who was later determined to have COVID-19. Of 15 nursing home patients who have died in hospitals during the outbreak, 13 tested positive, he said.
“We’re dealing with an unprecedented level of outbreak here with a virus that we know very little about,” said Killian, an independent media consultant who addressed reporters in the facility’s front parking lot. “It’s a fluid situation. Things are changing very quickly.”
Killian said he wasn’t aware of any employees who had been tested by their own doctors.
“We cannot make any promises that further exposure within the facility is not happening,” Killian said. He said he didn’t know whether each room had a separate heating and ventilation system.
Of the 120 residents in the facility on Feb. 19, 54 have been transferred to hospitals, he said. Some other residents — he didn’t know how many — have moved out to be cared for by family members. Nor did he have information on whether any of those who have moved out have been tested for COVID-19.
“There are residents who do have the option to leave the facility,” Killian said.
Visitors are no longer allowed at the nursing home, he said, and only essential medical employees are allowed to come and go. Members of a U.S. Public Health Service team arrived Saturday to help, he said.
Killian was unable to answer several questions from reporters; he noted that he wasn’t a Life Care employee or medical authority and that he hadn’t been inside the facility. He said he would follow up at a subsequent briefing.
“You should understand that it’s not a simple thing to put these numbers together,” he said.
As Killian addressed reporters, a woman stood behind them holding a cardboard sign that said, “Life Care is not contacting visitors! Why not?! Who is responsible?”
Cheri Chandler of Kirkland, the suburb just east of Seattle where the facility is located, said her 80-year-old father, Bob McCauley, and her 79-year-old mother, Pat McCauley, had visited a friend at the facility. Her father has diabetes and a heart condition, she said.
But neither Life Care managers nor health officials contacted her parents to warn that they might have been exposed or to advise them to stay at home in quarantine, Chandler said. They had visited multiple times before the outbreak was detected, and had close contact with several residents, she said.
“So my question is, how many visitors to this center are not being smart or not self-quarantining?” Chandler said. She said her parents’ friend, whose name she did not disclose, was placed in isolation in the facility Friday after developing symptoms.
Killian said Life Care workers had put top priority on caring for residents. “We get that there are people who have visited there, and we would encourage them to be in touch with their doctors,” he said.
On Friday, Patty Hayes, director of public health for Seattle and King County, said her agency had not been able to get a list of residents in the facility. “There’s been a breakdown here,” she said at a news conference in Seattle.
Many family members have not been able to get information from Life Care about their loved ones, she said. Federal privacy laws prevent the health agency from getting information about patients to relay to family members, she said, adding, “I’ve been extremely frustrated about this.”
“We’ve had some challenges with Life Care, and I’ve started to lose my patience,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said at the Friday news conference.
Killian said Saturday that he would hold daily news media briefings outside the nursing home. He praised Life Care Center staff members, calling them heroes for continuing to show up.
“I don’t know how many of you would show up in the newsroom tomorrow,” he said to reporters, “if it was reported that there was an outbreak of the coronavirus.”
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