Washington state patient becomes first person in U.S. to die from COVID-19

By Sydney Brownstone

The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — One person in King County has died due to a novel coronavirus infection, Public Health Seattle and King County officials announced Saturday morning. It is the first death attributed to the virus in the United States.

“It is a sad day in our state as we learn that a Washingtonian has died from COVID-19,” Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement, referring to the illness caused by the virus. “Our hearts go out to their family and friends. We will continue to work toward a day where no one dies from this virus.”

The patient arrived at EvergreenHealth Medical Center in Kirkland with “serious respiratory issues” and tested positive for COVID-19, the hospital said in a statement. A second patient also tested positive and is currently in isolation and receiving treatment.

The announcement followed late-breaking news Friday night of two new cases in King and Snohomish counties. Those two patients had tested positive for the virus locally but those results had not yet been confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

At a White House press conference Saturday, Vice President Mike Pence announced that the Trump administration had authorized additional travel restrictions on Iran, expanding an existing Iran travel ban to include “any foreign national who has visited Iran in the last 14 days.” Pence also said that the administration was advising citizens not to travel to specific areas in Italy and South Korea that “have been most affected by the coronavirus.”

Pence additionally announced that the president had directed the State Department to coordinate medical screenings in Italy and South Korea of any individuals coming into the United States.

The Seattle Office of Emergency Management began convening twice-weekly sessions to plan the response to novel coronavirus earlier this month.

On Friday, Washington state’s public health lab started testing samples from patients, significantly reducing the wait time for results.

In a press briefing on Friday, Dr. Jeffrey Duchin, health officer for Public Health Seattle — King County, said much is still unknown about the illness. It appears highly transmissible, Duchin said, though officials did not have precise numbers on transmissibility — and Duchin acknowledged that this would vary from community to community.

There’s less clarity on how severe the illness is, Duchin said. The fatality rate from Hubei province in China, for example, may have been portrayed as higher than it actually was, because there may have been more total cases than reported, Duchin said.

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