SEATTLE (AP) — Gov. Jay Inslee on Friday expanded school closures and prohibited large gatherings across all of Washington in an effort to slow the spread of the new coronavirus while health officials reported at least six new deaths and more than 560 positive tests.
“I don’t take these decisions lightly,” Inslee said at a news conference. “We’re doing this for the health of all Washingtonians.”
King County health officials reported five new COVID-19 deaths Friday afternoon and Snohomish County added one new death to their tally, bringing the state total to 37.
As of Friday, more than 6,000 people have been tested and 568 were positive in 19 counties, Dr. Kathy Lofy, state health officer, told The Associated Press. Even with thousands of tests being done, Lofy said it’s not enough.
“We should be doing more testing in Washington,” Lofy said. “We’re doing everything we can to increase testing capacity.”
While more test kits are becoming available for the labs, she said they’re starting to run short on some of the materials to take the samples from people, including the swabs and the liquid the swabs go in.
Inslee said the virus is spreading rapidly across the state so he issued an executive order to close all K-12 public and private schools from March 17 to April 24. He had previously closed schools in the three counties with the highest numbers of cases: King, Pierce and Snohomish. Online learning would continue at colleges and universities, he said.
Inslee also expanded the order to prohibit gatherings and events of more than 250 people to cover the entire state.
Most positive tests were people over the age of 80. The smallest age group, 2%, was children under the age of 19. Pierce County reported a boy under 10 and another just over 10 were positive for the virus.
Testing is available through four labs in Washington state and the turn-around time was 24 to 48 hours, officials said. The public health lab had the capacity to test 300 people per day. The University of Washington could handle 2,200 tests a day with a 24-hour turn-around.
Two private companies, LabCorp and Quest, were also conducting test. Quest could do about 1,250 per day while LabCorp could handle several hundred and were working to expand their capacity to thousands per day.
For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover within a few weeks.
As of Friday, Idaho has yet to have a confirmed case but the governor declared a state of emergency while Oregon reported at least 30. West Virginia has no reported cases but officials there have ordered schools closed as a precaution.
State health officials have put in two requests with the federal government for medical supplies to support health care workers. To date, the government has filled both requests.
Washington has received 595,940 N-95 respirators; 508,206 surgical masks; 63,688 face shields; 97,850 surgical gowns; and 240,376 gloves, according to the governor’s office.
Officials said the health department is “committed to continue partnering with the federal government in the days and weeks ahead” to secure additional personal protective equipment. They also are exploring alternative sources.
King County has the highest death rate, 32, with 25 of those fatalities at the Life Care Center in Kirkland. Other nursing homes in the county also reported deaths. Issaquah Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, Redmond Care and Rehab and Ida Culver House lost residents to the disease.
Most of the people who died were in their 70s through 90s. One man in his 40s and two others in their 50s and two in their 60s died from COVID-19.
Three of the five new deaths in King County were residents at the Life Care Center, another was a man in his 70s who died at Overlake Medical Center and the fifth was a man in his 80s who died at Swedish Issaquah.
At least 10 long-term care facilities in the Seattle area have reported positive cases.
King County opened an isolation site at a motel in Kent. Authorities said a homeless person awaiting COVID-19 test results voluntarily checked in, but disregarded instructions and left Friday morning. Another person tested negative and left the motel. The county said people can only be placed at special quarantine sites at Kent in Washington after a public health officials had determined they must be isolated.