More than half the residents of a work-release facility in Seattle have now tested positive for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, according to the Washington state Department of Corrections (DOC).

The outbreak at Bishop Lewis Work Release on Seattle’s First Hill has ballooned since two cases were first identified Oct. 16. As of Oct. 30, 28 of Bishop Lewis’ 49 residents had contracted the virus. One staff member has also tested positive.

That includes nine cases discovered last week and 17 found the previous week.

Testing of other residents didn’t start until Oct. 20, four days after the first infections were discovered. DOC spokesperson Susan Biller said that’s because the first positive tests came back on a Friday, and staff was off for the weekend, then off again Monday, Oct. 19, due to state-mandated furloughs.

Residents of Bishop Lewis were quarantined in the facility beginning Oct. 16, and those infected were moved to county housing designated for people with COVID-19. Some of them will be relocated to a state Department of Health (DOH) facility this week to free up space in the King County facilities, said Kate Cole, a Public Health – Seattle & King County spokesperson.

Public Health visited Bishop Lewis with an industrial hygienist on Oct. 29 to come up with suggestions for how DOC can stop more infections, Cole said.

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DOH will be moving the remaining residents to another facility where they will be quarantined, and the Bishop Lewis building will undergo a thorough cleaning while the building is empty, Biller said.

The design of the building makes infection control a challenge because it has poor ventilation and a lot of communal spaces, Cole said.

“The design of the facility is conducive to rapid disease spread,” she said.

As of Friday, Oct. 30, 526 people incarcerated in Washington’s correction centers or living in work-release facilities had contracted the virus. The largest outbreak has been at the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Franklin County, where 233 were infected and two died.

The Bishop Lewis outbreak is the largest at the state’s work-release facilities, which have had 53 positive cases in total. Progress House Work Release in Tacoma had an outbreak with 16 people infected, and Reynolds Work Release in downtown Seattle had a seven-person outbreak.

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