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COVID-19 Outbreak Possible at Nursing Home in Washington State

The novel coronavirus COVID-19 may have been circulating undetected in Washington state over the past six weeks, according to a genetic analysis of virus samples. The Washington Post reports that coronavirus samples taken from a patient who traveled from China to the U.S. in mid-January and a recently diagnosed high school student from the same county—with no travel-related or other known exposure—were virtually the same strain.

“This strongly suggests that there has been cryptic transmission in Washington state for the past six weeks,” wrote Trevor Bedford, a computational biologist at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, when announcing the research results on Twitter last Saturday. “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.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently expanded the parameters for coronavirus testing. Over the weekend, new cases were reported in Americans who had recently traveled to South Korea and Italy, in addition to travelers returning from China.

In Washington, two people have now died from COVID-19, and 13 cases have been reported. Worldwide, almost 90,000 people have been infected with the coronavirus, and 3,000 have died.

In Washington state, at least two of King County’s six confirmed COVID-19 cases are connected to a long-term residential healthcare facility, the Life Care Center of Kirkland. Health officials are investigating a potential coronavirus outbreak at the facility in Kirkland, Washington, where more than 50 residents and staff are reportedly ill with symptoms associated with the virus (fever, cough, shortness of breath), The Washington Post reports. The nursing home has barred all visits to the facility by families, volunteers, or vendors.

The CDC released guidance for long-term care facilities on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The strategies are similar to those used to detect and prevent the spread of other respiratory viruses like influenza, such as posting signs discouraging visitors from entering if they have symptoms; ensuring sick leave policies allow employees to stay home if ill; keep residents and employees informed; monitor residents and employees for fever or respiratory symptoms; support hand and respiratory hygiene and good cough etiquette; identify dedicated employees to care for COVID-19 patients and give infection control training; and provide the right resources to ensure easy and correct use of personal protective equipment like gloves and masks.

For more news and resources on COVID-19 and crisis preparedness, visit the ASIS International Disease Outbreak Resource Page.