Inslee declares state of emergency following first COVID-19 death in U.S.

Mariah Valles, Managing Editor

A man died from COVID-19 at the Evergreen hospital in Kirkland, Washington, marking the first death by the virus in the U.S. Gov. Jay Inslee responded by declaring a state of emergency.

“This will allow us to get the resources we need,” Inslee said in a press release. “This is a time to take common-sense, proactive measures to ensure the health and safety of those who live in Washington state.”

The person who passed away was a man in his 50s and had underlying health conditions, according to the state health department. Health officials say those who are over 60 years old and have preexisting conditions such as cardiac and lung diseases are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19, similarly to influenza. Health officials also say pregnant women and those with weak immune systems are also at a higher risk.

Risk is increasing, but transmission isn’t happening on a widespread basis, according to health officials. 

“Now that we can test for COVID-19 at our state public health laboratory in Shoreline, we’re able to get the test results back much faster,” a state public health official said. “This will allow us to identify cases and offer key guidance to impacted communities in a more timely fashion.” 

The Washington State Public Health Department began testing at its laboratory in Shoreline on Feb. 28. The laboratory is gearing up to be able to complete up to 200 tests a day, according to health officials.

Health officials say there are six cases of COVID-19 in Washington state, four in King County and two in Snohomish County, including the first case in the U.S. in January. Health officials say five of the six cases are “presumably positive” after being tested at the state public health laboratory. The tests are still sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for complete confirmation. None of those tests have come back yet, according to health officials.

One of the cases that’s presumably positive is a woman in her 50s who’s recently traveled to South Korea. Health officials say she’s doing well and doesn’t require hospital attention. Another case is a teenager who resides in Snohomish County. 

“Washingtonians can be assured we’ve taken this threat seriously and have been working in collaboration with our health care partners to develop plans and procedures to prepare for what could likely be a world-wide pandemic,” Inslee said in a press release. 

Worldwide there are more than 85,000 confirmed cases, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) on Feb. 29. The WHO assesses the risk as “very high” on a global level.