The Washington State Patrol Fire Training Academy near North Bend has been chosen as a new quarantine site for people returning to the United States from the Chinese province at the center of the new coronavirus outbreak.
The State Patrol (WSP) said Tuesday that the site will hold travelers from Hubei Province who cannot quarantine themselves. The academy is on Grouse Ridge Road along Interstate 90, about a 20-minute drive southeast of downtown North Bend. The site is not a medical facility and will only host travelers who have not exhibited symptoms.
The number of travelers from Hubei into the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is expected to be low, and maybe no passengers will arrive, said Douglas Wagoner, a Washington State Department of Health (DOH) spokesperson.
The city of North Bend was informed by the DOH on Tuesday that the academy would be a quarantine site, city spokeswoman Jill Green said. North Bend was not involved in the decision, she said.
Eleven people with the deadly virus have been confirmed in the United States, including a 35-year-old man from Snohomish County who was recently released from the hospital after weeks of treatment and monitoring in an isolation unit.
Sea-Tac is among 11 U.S. airports designated to screen air passengers arriving from China for symptoms of the virus. Whether and how travelers are quarantined will depend on whether they exhibit symptoms and where in China they visited. No flights have been funneled through Sea-Tac, and no air passengers have been quarantined since screenings began at the airport last week, said Perry Cooper, airport spokesman.
Public Health — Seattle & King County won’t be involved with running the facility but will be responsible for monitoring King County residents who have traveled from areas outside of Hubei quarantined in their homes and for those returning from Hubei who can be quarantined at home. The people who traveled in regions other than Hubei will be told to monitor their health and to call Public Health if they develop symptoms. Home quarantined travelers from Hubei will receive daily calls from Public Health workers, spokesman James Apa said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned Americans not to travel to China. And Chinese authorities have implemented unprecedented travel restrictions, essentially quarantining millions of people there.
Medical professionals say that the risk of catching the novel coronavirus in Washington state is low and that ordinary flu remains a bigger threat. The best way to protect yourself is to wash your hands, medical experts say.
Quarantine sites also have been chosen on military bases in California, Texas and Colorado.
DOH officials wouldn’t say why the Washington location was chosen but that it would be staffed by “a multi-agency partnership.”
Having people quarantined doesn’t pose a safety risk to the surrounding community, Wagoner said in an email.
“People in the facility will not be in public places, and coronaviruses are not known to linger in the air,” he said. “Any facility used for quarantine would be staffed by health workers in necessary personal protective equipment.”
In North Bend, the site is used for firefighting agencies for 12-week trainings that run year-round. There are 22 recruits, a commander and an instructor in a training session; they have been moved to a hotel in North Bend and will continue their training uninterrupted, State Patrol spokesman Chris Loftis said.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently increased its pledge to as much as $100 million to combat the outbreak as the number of cases worldwide climbed to almost 25,000 and the death toll neared 500. The money will go toward “strengthening detection, isolation, and treatment efforts; protecting at-risk populations; and developing vaccines, treatments, and diagnostics,” Gates Foundation spokesperson Anne Martens wrote in an email.
“This work is urgent,” Martens wrote, “because pandemics such as this tend to have a disproportionate impact on populations living in extreme poverty.”
The CDC announced Wednesday that it has begun sending the diagnostic test it developed for the novel coronavirus to 200 labs across the country. The test will allow for local labs to test patients who might have the virus. DOH has the equipment for the tests and is awaiting the kits to arrive and should be able to use them by the end of next week. All test will be done at DOH’s public health laboratory in Shoreline, Wagoner said.
A University of Washington student who lives off-campus and had traveled in China last month has been tested for the novel coronavirus. Three other UW students who had been in China tested negative for the virus in January.
On Tuesday, UW officials decided to restrict travel to China by students, faculty and staff, said UW spokesman Victor Balta.