'Tip of the iceberg.' Health officials predict more coronavirus in Washington state as testing accelerates
*A man died of presumed coronavirus in Kirkland, Washington. He is the first documented death from the virus in the U.S.
*2 people from a nursing facility in Kirkland have tested positive for the novel virus.
*Another 50 people from the nursing facility are being tested for the virus; their results are pending.
*10 CDC workers from Atlanta land in Seattle this weekend, and will head for the nursing care facility. More may arrive later.
The man who died of coronavirus near Seattle – the first death from the virus in the U.S. – would not have been diagnosed before last week.
That’s because, as someone who had not been traveling recently, the man didn’t meet the previous criteria for coronavirus testing, Washington state health officials said at a press conference on Saturday afternoon.
With six cases of novel coronavirus in the state, including three cases from people who contracted the illness within their community, Washington state has launched into full coronavirus prevention mode.
Gov. Jay Inslee issued a state of emergency on Saturday, directing agencies to spend resources to prevent further outbreak.
The King County Emergency Operations Center has been activated, and a state lab based in Shoreline is ramping up to test 200 specimens per day for coronavirus. The lab is staffing up and ready to start humming around the clock.
Test results should be in soon for 50 sick people from a nursing care facility in Kirkland, Washington.
And 10 people from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta should be arriving this weekend in Seattle, heading for the LifeCare facility in Kirkland, where two individuals – a resident and a health care worker – have already tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
Jeffrey Duchin, health officer for Public Health Seattle & King County, said that coronavirus is likely in the community.
“As we test more we’ll likely find more cases of the disease,” Duchin said. “Most of them are mild or aren’t seeking health care or didn’t qualify for testing based on the previous testing criteria.”
Duchin said, as he has before, that 80 percent of the cases are mild. For most people, Duchin said, “Think of it as a bad influenza-like infection.”
He emphasized hand washing, and keeping distances from people.
Washington state has not yet reached a situation where major events will need to be canceled, however, said Dr. Kathy Lofy, a state health officer.
“In Washington, we are starting to see some spread of this virus,” Lofy said. “We feel the risk to the general public is increasing. But we do not feel that transmission is happening on a wide-spread basis.”
She said it’s more important for people to practice good hygiene – washing hands and keeping a social distance from others.
Dr. Francis Riedo, an infectious disease doctor from EvergreenHealth, which cared for two infected patients, including the man who died, said he moved to test the sick patients because their illnesses didn’t make sense. The man who died had an underlying illness, but his respiratory problems didn’t have an explanation.
“We’re seeing the tip of the iceberg, the most critically ill,” Riedo said. “There is likely a significant percentage of less severe illness floating around out there.”