NORTH BEND — Off Interstate 90 east of North Bend, through a winding, twisting road with blind turns and a gated entrance, sits the Washington State Patrol Fire Training Academy. The sprawling site features a multilevel building with burn pits, a shipping container for trainees to learn how to force entry and a two-story dormitory.
Firefighting recruits use it as training facility — but it could soon be a coronavirus quarantine site.
The 51-acre site has been designated as a spot for travelers returning to the U.S. who have been in China’s Hubei province, the epicenter of the novel coronavirus outbreak, who aren’t able to quarantine elsewhere, the State Patrol announced this week. The site is only for those who haven’t exhibited symptoms but need to be quarantined for the mandatory 14 days; those who have symptoms will be taken to a medical facility.
Officials have stressed that the number of travelers coming through Seattle-Tacoma International Airport from Hubei is expected to be low, and possibly zero, so the site, which can accommodate 20 people, may go unused.
Sea-Tac is among 11 U.S. airports screening travelers arriving from China for symptoms of the virus, but all direct flights from China have been canceled. Entry to the U.S. has been suspended for foreign nationals who have been in China within the past two weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“You’re talking about a sliver of a sliver of a sliver of folks who may or may not be coming through Sea-Tac … the reasonable expectation is it’s a very small number,” State Patrol spokesman Chris Loftis said Thursday during a media tour of the training academy.
The building would give anyone sent there a private, dorm-style room. Two of the rooms are larger and could potentially accommodate up to four people if there are families who want to stay together. The rooms offer views of the surrounding forest, but not much else in terms of entertainment — there’s no Wi-Fi or television. The walls are adorned with plaques from previous firefighter recruiting classes, signs detailing firefighter history and reminders of the importance of hand-washing to stop the spread of viruses.
The city of North Bend wasn’t involved in the site’s selection, said city spokeswoman Jill Green. City officials have been working to address misinformation among residents who thought the location would be for those diagnosed with the virus.
Other U.S. sites chosen for mandatory quarantine are military bases. This is the first time the academy has been used for potential quarantine, according to academy Commander Chad Cross. Other sites in Washington are being considered if the training academy reaches capacity, but officials haven’t said where those might be.
Loftis described the training academy as a paramilitary site and emphasized that it’s isolated from a large population center, secure with monitoring of who comes in and out, and readily available. Recruits are currently training there as part of a 12-week program — smoke could be seen emitting from a burn building as part of an exercise Thursday — but they have been moved to a North Bend motel. For now, the dorms remain empty.
One person has tested positive for coronavirus in Washington state, and 20 have tested negative, according to the state Department of Health. Test results are pending for three others. A Snohomish County man in his 30s was the first person in the U.S. to be diagnosed; he was discharged from Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett on Monday.