(Natural News) Federal authorities have announced an investigation into the Seattle-area nursing home at the center of the coronavirus outbreak. The news comes just as the total death toll from the coronavirus climbed to 11, with the first reported death outside of Washington state.
Officials in California’s Placer County near Sacramento announced that an older adult who had tested positive for the coronavirus after returning from a San Francisco-to-Mexico cruise had died. Washington state also reported another casualty, bringing its total to 10.
Most of the deaths in the state were residents of a nursing home run by the Life Care Centers of America in Kirkland, a suburb east of Seattle. Now, Seema Verma, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), has announced that the agency is sending inspectors to Life Care along with experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to determine what happened and see if the nursing home followed guidelines for preventing infections.
This won’t be the first time the nursing home has come under investigation. Last April, the nursing home was fined $67,000 by the state for infection-control deficiencies following two influenza outbreaks that affected 17 people, including both patients and staff. Verna confirmed that an unannounced follow-up inspection in June of Life Care determined that it had corrected its problems.
For its part, Life Care has stated on its website that it is now screening employees for symptoms before they start work and as they leave. It is also prohibiting visits from residents’ family members.
Officials under pressure
The new investigation into Life Care comes as public officials in Washington state are coming under pressure to take more aggressive steps to contain the outbreak. People have called for schools to be closed and large events to be canceled. However, while both the state and the city of Seattle have declared emergencies, giving officials broad powers to suspend activities, neither issued any orders to do so as of yet.
“We have encouraged people who are responsible for large gatherings to give consideration whether it really makes sense to carry those on right now,” stated Governor Jay Inslee. “Right now, we are deferring to the judgment…of these organizations.”
While some schools and businesses have already shut down, Inslee stated that large-scale closings have not yet been ordered because there are so many ramifications for families and businesses. He specifically singled out health care workers who might not be able to go to work if they needed to take care of children at home.
Meanwhile, both local and state health officials have not recommended school closings unless a confirmed case of the disease was found at the school. One such school, Hazen High School in Renton, south of Seattle, has already been closed for the rest of the week after a student tested positive for the coronavirus.
Some businesses aren’t taking chances
Some businesses, however, aren’t taking chances. Reedpop, the organizer of the annual Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle, recently announced that it would make an exception to its no-refunds policy for those who no longer want to attend the event. However, it also stated that it remained committed to holding it unless officials change their guidance.
Meanwhile, tech giant Microsoft has asked its Seattle-area workers who’re able to work from home to do so until March 25. The same directive has also been issued to Microsoft employees in the San Francisco Bay Area. Additionally, the Redmond, Washington based company is asking people to cancel travel to its Puget Sound and Bay Area campuses unless it’s essential for the continuity of Microsoft, on top of canceling all non-essential business travel to regions where the virus is active.
Finally, at least one government office has also been shut down. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced Tuesday that a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office in Tukwila in King County would be closed for two weeks after an employee had tested positive for the virus. The employee had previously visited a relative in the Life Care facility in Kirkland where they most likely caught the virus.