CDC says sick workers helped spread coronavirus in local care centers

VIDEO: CDC report reveals what fueled spread of coronavirus at Life Care

KIRKLAND, Wash. — Investigators from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say workers such as occupational therapists, physical therapists and nursing assistants contributed to the spread of the new coronavirus that so far has killed 35 patients from Life Care Center of Kirkland.

A report from the CDC said workers went back and forth between nursing homes, came to work sick and didn't use protective equipment properly, spreading the virus to eight other local nursing homes.

Sick workers may well have contributed, although investigators haven't tied spread to “any particular staff member” and don't know how the infection was introduced or spread, said Dr. Jeff Duchin, public health officer for Seattle and King County, during a phone briefing for reporters Wednesday.

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“They need the money. They don’t have sick leave. They don’t recognize their symptoms. They deny their symptoms,” Duchin said. And in mid-February, awareness of the virus was low.

“Nobody was thinking about COVID-19 at this point,” Duchin said.

“They were a petri dish, and it just grew and expanded and ripped through the whole facility,” said Scott Sedlacek, whose father is at the care center in Kirkland.

Public health authorities who surveyed long-term care facilities in the area found they didn't have enough personal protective equipment or other items such as alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Family members of patients said the CDC only confirmed what they had been saying since day one.

“They were not using proper protection here even in the first week of the quarantine,” said Life Care patient family member Seri Sedlacek.

“The report will say there were problems with nurses coming in and going to facilities. Prior to this even, there had been no guidance from any agency telling us we shouldn’t – that that practice should be stopped,” said Tim Killian, with Life Care Center.

Within days of the outbreak in Kirkland, cases popped up at Issaquah Nursing and Rehabilitation. And soon after, one patient died at Ida Culver House in Ravenna, too.

Nursing home officials also were slow to think that symptoms might be caused by the coronavirus and faced problems from limited testing ability, according to the report.

Loved ones of patients questioned what they saw inside the nursing home in the days just before the coronavirus was confirmed.

“There were people literally in the hallway coughing, sneezing, going everywhere,” said Scott Sedlacek.

“This virus requires measures different than anything else we’ve dealt with before. It transmits in ways we didn’t know,” said Killian.

And they now suspect a treatment they were using on sick patients – nebulizers -- likely made it even worse.

“Nebulizing is an airborne treatment, and our concern is that might potentially put the viral outbreak in a wide scale through the air,” said Killian.

Life Care’s spokesman says it took too long to get test kits for patients. He thinks that might have changed the outcome for some. While he knows the CDC report shows what went wrong, he hopes other nursing homes can learn from it and be ready.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.