Wash. State Sees First US Coronavirus Death and First Healthcare Worker Infected

March 1, 2020
Allison Inserro

A man in his 50s in Washington state with underlying health conditions became the first fatality from the coronavirus in the United States, and a healthcare worker and a resident from a nursing home in the state are hospitalized, the CDC said Saturday. It is the first reported case in a healthcare worker, the CDC said.

This story has been updated.

A man in his 50s in Washington state with underlying health conditions became the first fatality from the coronavirus in the United States, and a nursing home in Washington is the scene of an apparent local outbreak. One worker from the facility is hospitalized, as is a resident, the CDC said Saturday.

The resident, in her late 70s, is hospitalized in serious condition and the healthcare worker, in her 40s, is in satisfactory condition, state health officials reported.

The long-term care facility, the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington, has 108 residents and 180 staff. Of the residents in the nursing home, 27 are showing respiratory symptoms, although it is not yet known if they have coronavirus or influenza; of the 180 staff members, 25 have symptoms.

A CDC team is en route to Washington, said Nancy Messonnier, MD, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

"We would not be surprised to find additional cases," said Jeff Duchin, MD, the public health officer for Seattle and King County. The man who died is not associated with the Life Care Center, he said.

Officials have not yet concluded extensive “contact tracing,” they said.

The state health officer, Kathy Lofy, MD, said the situation is “evolving rapidly on a global scale” and some spread is being seen locally, and so public risk is increasing. While most people will have mild cases, if they get COVID-19 at all, officials may recommend considering canceling public events if the situation worsens.

In related news, the FDA announced Saturday that it was authorizing private laboratories to develop their own coronavirus tests. The statement said that would allow the use of "validated COVID-19 diagnostics before the FDA has completed review of their Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) requests." The policy allows the HHS secretary to make a determination that there is a significant public health emergency or that the emergency could affect national security.