Beer, cigarettes provided to patients at King County COVID-19 quarantine site

SHORELINE, Wash. — King County’s COVID-19 quarantine recovery site in Shoreline is providing certain patients with measured access to beer and cigarettes, according to the county’s Department of Community and Human Services, and until recently, some patients were also provided with marijuana edibles.

A King County spokeswoman said the Shoreline facility has become a "harm reduction" site where nurses and clinicians are trained to treat infected patients who also struggle with addiction withdrawal symptoms. The offer of alcohol and nicotine provides an incentive to prevent the patient from walking away from the facility.

In a written statement, the spokeswoman emphasized taxpayer funds were not used to purchase the supplies.

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"While harm reduction is proven practice, it has also been clear from the beginning that public funds may not be used to purchase alcohol, tobacco, or cannabis products, even though those products may be legal for use by persons who are of legal age," wrote Sherry Hamilton, spokeswoman for the King County Department of Community and Human Services.

"It is for that reason the department director used his own personal, non-government money to cover costs of the initial harm reduction supplies, until a more sustainable source was identified. While this quick reaction was important in the beginning of the emergency response, it was also not sustainable, and the county is in the final stages of securing private foundation funding as a more sustainable approach to funding moving forward. No taxpayer money is used to purchase these items."

Hamilton said her department director, Leo Flor, bought the beer and nicotine products. Flor told KIRO 7 previously that even infected patients are free to walk away from the county's nine COVID-19 quarantine sites.

"It's a voluntary system," Flor said. "There is not a public health order that can compel the person to stay where they are."

Neighbors who live close to the Shoreline soccer fields, where the sprawling two-tent facility was built, see workers wearing hazmat suits and respirators throughout the day. Some are divided on the concept of providing alcohol and cigarettes in a county-run facility.

"I didn't like the idea, I don't care who's paying for it," Carolyn Nelson said. "It just seems like a bad situation, although I don't want them running around loose either. That was my concern when they first put this place in here. Are they going to be able to walk away?"

“Nobody’s in a position to take life changes by taking away the thing they’re addicted to right now,” Melissa Muir said. “Throwing in withdrawals? I’m not super excited about this, but I don’t know what the alternative is that isn’t harder for all of us.”

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