What it's like inside the Washington nursing home ravaged by the US coronavirus outbreak, with 63 confirmed infections and 23 deaths
- The Life Care Center of Kirkland, a nursing home near Seattle, Washington, has been hit extremely hard by the coronavirus in the US.
- The home accounts for 60% of the current US virus death toll by itself.
- Elderly patients are isolated, and worried families have to communicate on mobile phones, while watching through windows.
- As of March 11, 23 deaths from the coronavirus were linked to the center, and almost one third of its 180 employees are also under quarantine.
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A nursing home near Seattle has become one of the worst-hit places in the US by outbreaks there of the coronavirus.
In a matter of weeks, coronavirus cases ballooned at the Life Care Center of Kirkland. By March 10, up to one-third of its 180 staff members were under quarantine. By March 11, 23 coronavirus deaths in Washington were linked to the center.
Globally, the coronavirus has now killed more than 4,600 people and infected 126,000.
38 deaths have been recorded in the US, which means that the Life Care Center has contributed around 60% of the nationwide death toll.
Constantine Valhouli, who moved his father into the nursing home less than a year ago told Reuters, "You've got this perfect storm of conditions - the density of residents, the age of residents and the health concerns. The terrifying part of it is that you can worry about it from a distance, but the minute you've got a case, it's almost too late."
Inside, elderly patients are isolated in their rooms, unable to take showers or receive visitors. Outside, worried relatives look through windows, and talk to their loved ones on mobile phones.
Here's what it's like inside the Life Care Center of Kirkland, in photos.
In a suburb to the northeast of Seattle, an unremarkable looking nursing home called Life Care Center of Kirkland, which houses about 120 residents monitored by 180 staff, has, in a few weeks, become the United States' coronavirus epicenter.
Last year in April, health inspectors found the facility had failed to take the necessary precautions to prevent infections spreading. But it was a one-off in recent years, and other nursing homes had been cited more. For overall care, it was given five out of five stars.
Unfortunately, nursing homes are a prime and dangerous place for a virus outbreak. This is because the coronavirus spreads by droplets, and nursing homes are filled with the elderly, in close quarters. They can have weak immune systems, and underlying health conditions, making them susceptible. There's also no vaccine yet.
While Kirkland is the epicenter, it's not alone. Health experts warn that nursing homes in general are vulnerable. This is not just because of the elderly and ill, but also because many have breached health regulations.
On February 19 the first patient from the care center was transferred to a nearby hospital, and was later confirmed to have the coronavirus. Here, a man is shielding a patient from cameras with a white sheet.
The magnitude of the coronavirus still wasn't clear, though. On February 27, Kirkland fire fighters responded to more than a dozen calls about struggling patients. People started to notice. Kirkland firefighter Darren DeBore told The Wall Street Journal, "It started to raise a flag. There's something going on," he said.
In late February and early March, pressure on the facility was growing, as families demanded more information. At that point, none of the patients in the facility were being tested for the coronavirus.
The number of cases was also increasing. By March 7, 26 people had died with some connection to the nursing home. This included 13 people who died in hospitals, and who were confirmed to have the coronavirus. In a usual month, the nursing home has between 3 and 7 deaths.
Visitors were no longer allowed inside. Families began to monitor their loved ones by looking through the windows. Employees started covering themselves with gowns and masks, too.
The relatives talking to their loved ones through glass doors, were "like jailhouse visitors," according to The New York Times. And they were worried it could be months before they could hug their relatives again.
Patients were isolated in their rooms, and were unable to have showers, since the rooms didn't have showers. Cathleen Lombard, a nurse, told The Seattle Times that some residents were having emotional problems, while some were struggling badly with their dementia.
Here Judie Shape, who is behind the glass, and tested positive for the coronavirus, blows a kiss to her son-in-law, Michael Spencer.
Families of those in the care home demanded that every resident be tested for the coronavirus, but it didn't happen instantly. It wasn't until March 4 that officials said everyone would be tested.
By March 5, a federal disaster response team had been brought in. But still, problems arose. One woman, Pat Herrick, got a call saying that her mother had died. Later a second call said she was actually fine.
On March 7, as the demand for information grew, Tim Killian, a spokesman for the center, gave a public briefing, which became daily.
He said 26 residents had died since February 19, and 70 of the 180 staff members were displaying symptoms.
In Kirkland, those who died ranged between their 40s to their 90s. The coronavirus' death rate for people over 80 was 14.8% according to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Killian mentioned the quickness of one coronavirus case. He said: "We have seen as little as one hour from somebody exhibiting no symptoms, going to symptoms that were severe enough they needed to be transferred to a hospital, and then within a short amount of time that patient dying."
By March 8, there were only 55 residents of the original 120 still at the care center.
Protective gear arrived by the box load. They were provided by public agencies.
The disaster recovery team was kitted up in protective suits and respirators.
Here, they enter the facility on March 11, to begin a thorough clean. At this point, the total number of confirmed cases had reached 63.
One of the biggest issues for the care center going forward was staffing. Killian told reporters, nurses could only "give 18-hour days for so long."
Outside, those who couldn't get in did what they could. The woman in this photo, Tricia LaVoice, provided staff with coffee and doughnuts. She then tied blue bows and flowers on trees in front of the center, so residents had something pretty to look at.
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