Four more people in Washington state have died due to the coronavirus, raising the total number of deaths in the US to six.
Health officials for Seattle and King County on Monday announced four deaths due to COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, including three people in Kirkland, Washington. A resident of Snohomish County has also died. These come in addition to two deaths in Washington confirmed over the weekend.
To combat the spread, health officials for King County said Monday they're purchasing a motel to house patients in isolation and setting up modular housing units in public parking lots and available lands.
"We have moved to a new stage in the fight to contain and mitigate this outbreak," said County Executive Dow Constantine during a briefing. "We will direct all available resources to help cities, health care facilities, businesses and families continue life as normally as possible."
Over the weekend, the Washington State Department of Health confirmed two fatalities in the US. "The first US death from COVID-19 has occurred here in the state of Washington," the department said in a tweet Saturday.
The first patient died at a hospital in Kirkland, near Seattle. The man was in his 50s with an underlying health condition, state health officials said during a briefing Saturday afternoon. A second death was confirmed at the same facility on Sunday evening and was a man in his 70s, also with underlying health conditions.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said Saturday that the state is working to keep its citizens safe, and he declared a state of emergency.
"In partnership with the Washington State Department of Health, the Washington State Department of Emergency Management and local and community health partners, we are strengthening our preparedness and response efforts," Inslee said in a statement. "I am committed to keeping Washingtonians healthy, safe and informed." Officials said Saturday that the CDC would send a team to Washington state to assist in an investigation of the virus there.
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Discovered in December in China, the coronavirus has spread globally, so far killing more than 3,00 people and infecting about 90,000. Washington state was also the site of the first case in the US, a traveler who had returned from China. The person has since recovered and been released, The New York Times noted.
State health officials said Saturday there wasn't any evidence the first patient who died in Washington had recently traveled or been in contact with anyone known to be infected. On Friday, similarly unexplained cases of coronavirus infections appeared in Northern California and Oregon, with specialists saying they could point to a spread of the virus in the US, the Times said.
At a White House press conference Saturday, President Donald Trump had mistakenly identified the Washington state fatality as a woman, but the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention later issued a statement saying it had incorrectly described the patient's gender in a briefing with Trump.
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Kirkland, the site of Saturday's death, is also near Redmond, where Microsoft is headquartered. It's unclear how the news might affect the company. A spokesperson said Microsoft is keeping an eye on the situation.
"The health and safety of our employees is our top priority at Microsoft," the spokesperson said in a statement. "We are providing real-time guidance to employees in all affected regions. We will continue to monitor the situation and take action as necessary to help protect employees."
So far, the coronavirus has affected tech companies in various ways. Major tech shows such as Mobile World Congress, the Geneva Motor Show and Facebook's F8 have been canceled, travel plans have been disrupted, component supplies have been threatened, and both Microsoft and Apple have issued financial warnings related to the outbreak.
On Friday, Google said an employee in its Zurich office had been diagnosed with coronavirus, though the office itself remains open. Apple has temporarily closed its corporate offices and contact centers in China.
During Saturday's press briefing, the Washington state health officials emphasized that 80% of coronavirus cases are mild and that people most at risk are individuals at least 60 years old who have underlying health conditions. But because some cases can be severe, the officials encouraged people to, among other things, wash their hands frequently; avoid touching their eyes, ears, nose and face; stay home from work or school if sick; have a plan for looking after any family members who might become ill; and cut down on social contact.
They also pointed to the CDC's coronavirus prevention page. (The World Health Organization has a COVID-19 prevention page too.) The officials added that businesses should start thinking about how their employees can have less contact with one another, in case such a step becomes necessary, and they mentioned options such as telecommuting and videoconferencing.
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Originally published Feb. 29, 11:04 a.m. PT, and updated with details as information has emerged.
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