Washington nursing home with 34 coronavirus deaths mistook outbreak for pneumonia, flu

Kirkland, Wash.-based Life Care Center experienced one of the earliest and deadliest outbreaks of COVID-19, and a Seattle Times investigation found that the disease may have started circulating at the facility far earlier than the outbreak was first reported in late February.

The nursing home marks Feb. 19 as the start of the deadly COVID-19 outbreak that sickened 81 and killed 34 residents as of March 18. There were 120 residents at the nursing home last month. On Feb. 26, the nursing home notified state officials of the outbreak.

The Seattle Times reviewed 911 call logs and interviewed family members and found that response to the outbreak was slow and hampered by confusion.

Though the nursing home told state officials of the outbreak Feb. 26, it didn't receive all the supplies it needed to test all residents until March 7. It took another week to test all employees at the facility. A recent CMS report stayed that lack of testing and staff who worked at several facilities while sick contributed to the COVID-19 outbreak at Life Care.

Neither state officials nor the nursing home believed it was their duty to provide the testing, the Times reported.

A review of 911 logs shows that a nurse at Life Care called 911 about a woman in her 80s with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 as early as Jan. 29. There were two more calls made to 911 about residents with breathing issues early in February.

Nursing home employees only realized that a respiratory illness was spreading by Feb. 10, but did not think the situation was unusual enough to warrant reporting to public health authorities until Feb. 26.

"This was not setting off COVID alarm bells for us; this was setting off pneumonia and influenza alarm bells for us," Life Care spokesman Tim Killian told The Seattle Times.

By Feb. 28, Seattle and county health officials learned that 20 residents at the nursing home were sick but did not have influenza, and the first two COVID-19 cases linked to the nursing home were confirmed.



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