A second man in Kirkland has died from COVID-19 and three more people have been hospitalized with the respiratory illness, increasing the number of novel coronavirus cases in King County to 10, local health officials said late Sunday.
Seattle and King County health officials said the man in his 70s died Saturday at Evergreen Health, the same hospital where a man in his 50s had died a day earlier. Both had underlying health issues, and their deaths mark the first in the nation from COVID-19.
In addition, two women and a man were among new patients being treated at Evergreen Health for the highly infectious illness. Like the man who officials said died Saturday, they had been residents of Life Care, a care facility in Kirkland. Six people connected with the facility have now been confirmed to have COVID-19. A resident in her 70s was in serious condition at , and a health employee in her 40s was in stable condition. Life Care has 108 residents and 180 employees, according to the CDC.
The announcement of the new cases comes after local health officials said earlier Sunday that two men in their 60s with underlying health conditions were in critical condition at hospitals in Seattle and Renton for the respiratory illness raised the total number of Covid-19 COVID-19 cases to six in King County, where officials said a man in Kirkland became the first person in the United States on Friday to die of it.
Meanwhile, some researchers are suggesting that the virus has likely been spreading within the state’s population for up to six weeks.
Health officials so far have identified 16 cases treated in Washington. King County has monitored more than 500 people for signs of the illness, and dozens of people had been tested in Washington state, as of Saturday.
The virus, known as the novel coronavirus or SARS-CoV-2, has been spreading to a growing number of countries across the globe.
In addition, a U.S. Postal Service spokesman said one of the agency’s employees had tested positive for COVID-19 in Federal Way after traveling to South Korea. She was recovering at home in stable condition after being diagnosed on Thursday and is among the cases previously identified by local health officials, said Ernie Swanson, a U.S. Postal Service spokesman.
The woman, who is in her 50s, works in a network distribution center, a mostly automated facility that handles and distributes packages throughout Western Washington, Swanson said. Workers at the facility rarely touch mail as they empty containers onto belts and conduct other operational duties.
After her diagnosis, officials at the facility contacted public health officials for Seattle and King County, who recommended the center continue with normal operations, Swanson said.
He added that an outside firm had cleaned the facility on Saturday afternoon.
“We’re confident there is nothing that customers need to be concerned about,” he said.
The number of COVID-19 cases in the area is expected to increase with more tests underway, local officials said.
The Lake Washington Institute of Technology announced it was disinfecting its campus and closing Monday and Tuesday because 16 of the school’s students visited the Life Care Center recently.
Dr. Trevor Bedford, a genetic and infectious disease researcher at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and director of the Bedford Lab, said there may already be “a few hundred cases” of the virus in Washington, while suggesting that it has been circulating in the state since mid-January.
In a series of Tweets, Bedford wrote late Saturday that a genetic map of COVID-19 produced by scientists at the Seattle Flu Study indicates that one of the cases reported over the weekend appears to be genetically linked to a case reported in Snohomish County on Jan. 19.
That case was the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the United States.
“This strongly suggests that there has been cryptic transmission in Washington State for the past six weeks,” he wrote. It’s possible the connection is a coincidence, but unlikely, he wrote.
Bedford is a computational biologist who studies how viruses evolve and spread. He has been studying the genetic makeup and spread of COVID-19 since shortly before the virus emerged in December in Wuhan, China, working with scientists all over the globe. Their findings can be found at nextstrain.org.
“I believe we’re facing an already substantial outbreak in Washington State that was not detected until now due to narrow case definition requiring direct travel to China,” Bedford wrote. He was referring to a previous federal requirement that called for health workers to only test individuals who had traveled to China, where the virus emerged.
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(Anika Varty / The Seattle Times)
Staff reporter Michelle Baruchman contributed to this report.
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