More than 60% of the US’s coronavirus deaths are linked to a Washington nursing home.

Here's what we know about the outbreak there.

Charlie Campbell takes mom, Dorothy, to visit her husband at Life Care Center nursing home in Kirkland, Washington
Charlie Campbell accompanies his mom, Dorothy, 88, to see her husband, Gene, 89, through his window at the Life Care Center nursing home in Kirkland, Washington, on March 5. 
ASON REDMOND/AFP via Getty Images
  • The Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington, is the center of a tragic coronavirus outbreak.
  • Since February 19, 26 residents have died, 13 of whom were confirmed to have COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus. In total, 19 deaths in the state have been tied to the center.
  • Over 50 nursing-home residents have contracted the virus. Some staff members and first responders have also exhibited flu-like symptoms but haven't been tested yet.
  • Because the coronavirus spreads via droplets when people are in close contact and is especially risky for people over 80, a nursing home can be a dangerous breeding ground for an outbreak.
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The long-term care facility, about 20 minutes north of Seattle, has been battling a coronavirus outbreak for weeks. Since the outbreak started, 26 of the center's residents have died, 13 of whom were confirmed to have COVID-19, the disease the coronavirus causes. Some others who died have not yet been tested.

King County's public-health agency said in a statement on Tuesday that 19 deaths in Washington had been linked to the Life Care Center outbreak.

Given that the US's death toll sat at 31, the fatalities tied to the center made up 61% of the nation's total.

Over 51 coronavirus cases have been confirmed among Life Care residents. Those experiencing acute symptoms have been transferred to hospitals. Still in the facility are 49 residents, 21 of whom have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington, where residents and employees have contracted coronavirus.
The Life Care Center, where residents and employees have contracted the coronavirus. 
David Ryder/Reuters

Healthcare workers and first responders were exposed

All residents at the center have been tested for the virus, said Tim Killian, a spokesman for the center, though the results of 12 tests are still pending and four came back inconclusive. The center's staff continues to care for the residents who are still there, but about 70 staff members have also presented symptoms of COVID-19.

Six have recovered, and two are back at work, but 64 are still quarantined at home. Of these 64 employees, about half have not been tested for the coronavirus because of test shortages. Killian said he hadn't been given an answer about why the facility didn't have enough tests.

First responders who answered calls from the Life Care Center last month were exposed to the coronavirus too. Twenty-seven firefighters and three police officers are under quarantine, and Kirkland Patch reported that 12 of them were experiencing flu-like symptoms.

Firefighters are now required to wear personal protective equipment when responding to any calls from the Life Care Center, a Kirkland representative said.

'We've had patients die relatively quickly'

The first COVID-19 patient was transferred from Life Care Center to a local hospital with acute respiratory symptoms on February 19, though they hadn't been diagnosed yet. The first confirmed cases at the nursing home were announced a week and a half later.

For some of that time, the center continued to accept visitors.

Because the coronavirus spreads via droplets when people are in close contact — within 6 feet — a nursing home can be a dangerous breeding ground for an outbreak.

The virus' death rate so far is highest among people older than 80, according to data from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. People with preexisting health conditions — a category in which many nursing-home residents fall — also face a higher risk. (The Life Care residents who have died were in their 40s through 90s with underlying health problems.)

Death Rate by Age Range Coronavirus

Shayanne Gal/Business Insider

Health officials haven't pinpointed how the Life Care outbreak started — the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not yet identified "patient zero" there, Killian told reporters, and the facility has been too busy treating the residents to prioritize tracing the virus' spread to its source.

Because people come in and out of the center to visit residents frequently, it's possible that someone who had an undetected case of COVID-19 brought it in. The virus was spreading undetected in Washington for weeks before officials realized it.

COVID-19 cases have been confirmed at other nursing homes too

Ten long-term care facilities in the greater Seattle area have confirmed coronavirus cases, Seattle and King County's public-health agency said this week.

Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday directed nursing homes and assisted-living facilities to limit residents to one visitor a day.

Life care center coronavirus
The entrance to the Life Care Center. 
David Ryder/Getty Images

"One thing that is clear is that nursing homes and hospitals are potentially at greater risk, and we are really going to have to think hard about what can be done to protect them," Tom Frieden, a former CDC director, said in a media briefing last week. There are 1.3 million people in nursing homes around the US.

The Washington State Department of Health has confirmed at least 265 cases of COVID-19 statewide.

At least 31 people in the US have died from the coronavirus: 24 in Washington, three in California, two in Florida, one in New Jersey, and one in South Dakota. The US has reported more than 1,000 coronavirus cases in total across 38 states and Washington, DC.

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