Coronavirus Deaths at Nursing Center Came Earlier Than Anyone Knew

Coronavirus Deaths at Nursing Center Came Earlier Than Anyone Knew

“They are prisoners with no information in there,” said a relative of a resident of the nursing center where dozens of patients remain, waiting in their rooms.

Credit…Grant Hindsley for The New York Times

SEATTLE — The first public indication that something was wrong inside the Life Care nursing care center in Kirkland, Wash., came on Friday, prompting an alarming sign to go up on the front door: “WE ARE HAVING RESPIRATORY OUTBREAK.”

Since then, officials have announced a series of coronavirus cases, some of them fatal, from the facility, which has become an ominous symbol of the dangers the virus poses.

On Tuesday, the authorities made another jarring announcement: The first virus-related deaths at the nursing center occurred days earlier than previously known — and well before residents had been quarantined in their rooms.

A man in his 50s, who was rushed from the facility in a Seattle suburb to a hospital on Feb. 24, died last Wednesday. On the same day, another patient from the center, a woman in her 80s, died at her family home. Both of their deaths have now been attributed to the coronavirus.

The ire of the relatives of those inside was growing with each new revelation.

“Because these are elderly and infirm people, it’s like we are waiting for them to be picked off, one by one,” said Kevin Connolly, whose 81-year-old father-in-law, Jerry Wall, has been at Life Care for about a year, recovering from heart and kidney failure.

Mr. Connolly said about 65 families with relatives in the facility have been in touch after Life Care emailed the families a generic update yesterday but left their email addresses visible. “Everybody on that thread started sharing their stories,” said Jodi Connolly, who said that her father’s regular nurse was not working and that he had not been told why.

“They are prisoners with no information in there,” she said.

The news that two people from the center died of coronavirus days before officials identified the emerging crisis suggested that the virus had been circulating inside the facility even longer than had been understood. That means it may have been a threat to visitors, workers and residents for days, widening the circle of people who may be at risk.

Nowhere else in the country has been known to have been hit as hard by the virus as Kirkland.

Seven residents of the Life Care center were dead from the virus, and seven other people with connections to the home had been sickened by it. One visitor to the center apparently traveled home to North Carolina before testing positive for the virus, an outcome North Carolina officials announced on Tuesday.

Dr. Chris Spitters, the health officer in Snohomish County, north of Seattle, said resources have become stretched in a way that limits how much officials can focus on any one case.

“Really, we’re kind of having to triage our efforts,” he said.

Across Washington State, nine people have died, the only deaths in the United States in a coronavirus crisis that has killed 3,000 people worldwide. State officials also announced that several more people have been sickened, including two people in their 20s who were hospitalized in the Seattle suburb of Issaquah. On Tuesday, Amazon told employees via email that a worker in one of its many office buildings in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood had tested positive for the virus.

Dr. Manisha Juthani, an associate professor at Yale School of Medicine who studies infectious diseases in older populations, said it was sad but not unexpected that the virus had reached a nursing facility and, once there, caused multiple deaths.

“Are we going to see this again in other facilities?” Dr. Juthani said. “Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be surprised if we do.”

In Kirkland, a quarter of the city’s firefighters and a few police officers have been asked to isolate themselves after they visited the nursing center. A dozen of them had flulike symptoms, an official said.

Families of the nursing facility residents were growing increasingly anxious as residents continued to be kept inside the center, and visits were not allowed.

“I went from not worrying much to being really worried now,” said Debbie Delosangeles, who said in an interview with The New York Times on Monday that she had been told that her 85-year-old mother had been symptom free. On Tuesday, she learned that her mother’s health had declined. Workers told Ms. Delosangeles that they would treat her mother for her high fever but did not intend to test her for coronavirus unless she developed breathing problems.

Bridget Parkhill said her 77-year-old mother had been sick inside the facility for nearly a week, and had a breathing issue for a short while, but had not been tested.

“Mom found out today that a friend that would come see her all the time was in the hospital and not doing well,” Ms. Parkhill said. She said she had visited the facility and walked around the exterior, to see her mother through a window.

Officials at the Life Care center have said that they were following federal protocol and were doing the best they could given a chaotic situation. At Harborview Medical Center, where one person has died, officials were working to determine which staff members may have been exposed to the virus.

Officials in Washington State were rushing to take steps to contain the spread. Health officials were asking the State Legislature for an additional $100 million in funding to help respond to the virus. Some leaders were weighing widespread closings of events.

Businesses, schools and houses of worship altered their practices. Amazon and Microsoft have turned events related to International Women’s Day later this week into online meetings. The Archdiocese of Seattle indefinitely postponed an annual Mass and dance for people with disabilities that had been set for Saturday. And a baseball league for youths told parents that players would be discouraged from giving high-fives and handshakes.

Officials from the Department of Homeland Security said on Tuesday that they were closing a Seattle field office of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services after an employee visited the Kirkland nursing care facility and developed symptoms of illness. The employee had been going to work after the visit but before getting sick.

Dr. Spitters, the health officer in Snohomish County, said officials may get to a point where they need to limit public gatherings, such as high school basketball games and conventions.

“These things could end up becoming temporarily discouraged, if not prohibited,” Dr. Spitters said.

Mitch Smith contributed reporting from Chicago and Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs from New York.

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