A group of families associated with the Life Care Center of Kirkland, the long-term care facility at the epicenter of the new coronavirus outbreak in the United States, decried the response by the center and government officials.

The center is linked to at least nine deaths attributed to COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus.

Kevin Connolly, whose father-in-law is a Life Care resident who has not showed symptoms of the virus, said one of his main concerns is that residents are being told they have to be symptomatic to be tested. His family has to wait seven to 10 business days before they know if Connolly can be tested at all, he said.

“The reason there are so few of us present here today is that so many of us are either grieving, trying to arrange and manage the health care of a loved one who has been transferred out of the Life Care Center and admitted to care facility close by, have been quarantined or are in self quarantine,” Connolly said. “Those standing here are either the most fortunate ones, whose loved ones are not yet symptomatic, or the least fortunate ones, who have already lost their loved ones.”

Connolly said the families who have lost their loved ones have been complaining for days about the lack of information they’ve received from Life Care, the state Department of Health (DOH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Representatives of the Life Care Center, DOH and CDC did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

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“Most of us found out about this outbreak from the news,” he said. “Even our loved ones were not told there was a COVID-19 outbreak.”

Each resident has been assigned a clinical representative in charge of staying in contact with family members daily, though in one instance, the representative passed along outdated information about a family member, he said.

Pat Herrick, who found out early Thursday morning that her mother had died, said a clinical representative gave her incorrect information hours later: that her mother was alive and doing well. Then she was told that her mother hadn’t showed any symptoms of the virus and died of “natural causes.”

Herrick said she’s hoping her mother’s body is tested to determine if she had COVID-19.

“This is the level of incompetence we have been dealing with,” Connolly said. “What little information we receive is quickly conflicted by another source. We are being told that all CDC precautions and procedures are being followed, yet we wake up daily to news of another death.”

Pat Herrick’s mother Elaine was a resident of Life Care Center of Kirkland, the long-term care facility at the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. Her mother died early Thursday morning, March 5. (Lauren Frohne / The Seattle Times)

The ninth death linked to the center, and 11th overall in the state, was announced by health officials Thursday.

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While he said he and other families don’t believe Life Care has handled the situation well, Connolly added that the center “should never have been left to deal with an outbreak of this kind unsupported.” The families still have yet to hear directly from the CDC or DOH, he said.

Some families are hesitant to assign blame.

Mike Weatherill, whose 85-year-old mother died Wednesday morning, said his mom had been happy at Life Care. On the last day he stopped by to visit her, she was smiling as she listened to live music.

“I don’t blame (Life Care) at all,” Weatherill said. “How can you blame what you can’t see and can’t really deal with?”

His mother wasn’t showing symptoms of the virus, but Weatherill said he’s confident she died from COVID-19.

Mike Weatherill’s mother was a resident at Life Care Center of Kirkland, the long-term care facility at the epicenter of the new coronavirus outbreak in the United States. She died Wednesday, March 4. (Lauren Frohne / The Seattle Times)

Connolly said Life Care has told them they can take their relatives and loved ones out of the facility if they want, but families don’t know where else they would take them. “I’d be putting my family at risk, the community at risk,” Connolly said. “We have no options here. This is our only option.”

Now they have “clear demands,” he said. These include getting information about when their loved ones will be tested for COVID-19, the efficacy of the test, what happens after the results return and how many CDC representatives are on-site, among other requests.

The families are also calling for a meeting with Gov. Jay Inslee, King County Executive Dow Constantine, Vice President Mike Pence and other state health officials.

“We have questions, and we demand answers,” Connolly said. “If anyone’s questions should be answered it should be ours. There’s a line and it starts behind us.”

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