Nearly half of all American deaths from the novel coronavirus trace back to the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Wash. Its story is instructive.
Nearly half of all coronavirus deaths so far in the United States can be traced to a single nursing home in Kirkland, Wash., just east of Seattle. Life Care Center, a low-slung building in a quiet part of town, is now the epicenter of the pandemic spreading throughout the United States. What is happening behind its four walls — and how a deadly virus escaped them — opens a window on the terrifying inaction of public authorities and the tremendous costs it has had.
It all began with patient zero. The 35-year-old had just returned to Seattle on January 15 from visiting family in Wuhan, China. Maybe he sneezed or coughed as he took a shared shuttle home from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. All we know is, four days later, after feeling a little under the weather, he was in an urgent-care clinic getting blood drawn and taking throat and nasal swabs. The next day he was confirmed as the first case of COVID-19 in the United States.
County health officials reportedly quarantined more than 60 people whom patient zero had come in contact with over those crucial four days after he returned from China. None were confirmed to have the virus. But just a few days later, it became clear the authorities had missed someone. Firefighters soon began receiving calls from the Life Care Center, a 25-mile drive from where patient zero was being held in quarantine, at an alarming rate. Residents were reporting shortness of breath and fevers; facility staff were telling firefighters and visitors alike of an unidentified “respiratory virus.” Life Care made 30 calls to 911 in February, up from seven the month before, but life went on at the facility as usual for its 120 residents and 180 staff. Visitors came and went, and patients were routinely discharged or moved to other nursing facilities.
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