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Washington coronavirus death toll hits 40

Ore. reports first death; health officials say more equipment needed

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Aida Cruz, left, and Jose Chavez, take photos at the Space Needle, Friday, March 13, 2020, in Seattle. The two were visiting from San Antonio, Texas and had planned to take the elevator up the Needle for a view of the city, but they discovered that the iconic landmark and tourist attraction had closed Friday and will remain so through the end of March due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus in Washington state.  The vast majority of people recover from the new coronavirus. According to the World Health Organization, most people recover in about two to six weeks, depending on the severity of the illness. (AP Photo/Ted S.
Aida Cruz, left, and Jose Chavez, take photos at the Space Needle, Friday, March 13, 2020, in Seattle. The two were visiting from San Antonio, Texas and had planned to take the elevator up the Needle for a view of the city, but they discovered that the iconic landmark and tourist attraction had closed Friday and will remain so through the end of March due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus in Washington state. The vast majority of people recover from the new coronavirus. According to the World Health Organization, most people recover in about two to six weeks, depending on the severity of the illness. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren) (geoff crimmins/Moscow-Pullman Daily News) Photo Gallery

SEATTLE — The death toll from the new coronavirus in Washington jumped to 40 on Saturday when King County health officials reported three new fatalities — two from the nursing home that’s been the epicenter of the outbreak.

Two men in their 80s who were residents of Life Care Center in Kirkland died at area hospitals, officials said. A woman in her 70s died at Swedish First Hill, they said. Ninety-five Life Care employees were symptomatic as of Friday night and 47 tested positive for COVID-19, while 24 were negative, King County health said.

Washington state reported Saturday that statewide, almost 650 people have tested positive in 16 counties across the state. As of Friday, Idaho has reported two confirmed cases and Oregon reported at least 36 cases.

A man in his 70s has become the first person in Oregon to die from the new coronavirus, the Oregon Health Authority said.

The Multonomah County man who was hospitalized at the Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center died Saturday.

The man, who had underlying heath conditions, tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday, the authority said. He had no known contact to a confirmed case and had not traveled to a country where the virus is circulating.

Washington health officials are fighting the new coronavirus on two fronts — containment, while trying to ensure hospitals can care for people who become sick, and to date, they have not received the equipment they need, officials said.

“We’re still working on slowing the spread but also trying to plan on how to expand beyond the walls of our current health care system,” Dr. Kathy Lofy, state health officer, told The Associated Press.

The increase in people visiting clinics with respiratory symptoms is straining the states supply of personal protective gear worn by health care workers, officials said.

The federal government has sent Washington tens of thousands of respirators, gowns, gloves and other protective gear for health care providers, but it’s not enough, said Clark Halvorson, Assistant Secretary of Health for Public Health Emergency Preparedness and Response.

Gov. Jay Inslee has prohibited gatherings and events of more than 250 people across all of Washington in an effort to slow the spread of the disease. He also closed all K-12 private and public schools until April 24.

“We’re doing this for the health of all Washingtonians,” he said.

Health officials look at the health system in terms of “space, staff and stuff,” Lofy said, meaning they have to count bed space, consider their staffing limitations and tally the ventilators and medication.

Officials continue to hold meetings to assess the number of intensive care unit beds available in state hospitals and whether they can add more, as well as other needs, she said.

State health officials have received two shipments of personal protective equipment from federal agencies: 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.

But it’s not enough, they say.

“The Department of Health appreciates our federal partner’s efforts to meet our needs for PPE throughout this response through the Strategic National Stockpile,” Halvorson said. “This support however falls far short of meeting the needs of our medical system, first responders, public health, and care facilities — forcing us to prioritize requests based on greatest need.”

Due to the demands on the protective equipment, Halvorson said the health department is partnering with the Emergency Management Division and Department of Enterprise Services to identify other sources for the equipment.

“This is a national problem as well,” he said. “It is critical that the federal government work with supplies to increase production of PPE to ensure our health care providers have the protection they need to safely provide care.”

Testing for the disease is also a concern.

Over 7,000 people have been tested for COVID-19 in Washington.

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