King County buys Kent motel to house COVID-19 patients

KENT, Wash. — COVID-19 cases are spiking daily in Washington, with the epicenter in King County. County leaders say hospital beds must be saved for only the most serious coronavirus cases, and they are working on other options to isolate people who are sick.

Crews moved a modular housing unit to a county-owned lot Tuesday in White Center on SW 112th Street. It’s the first of up to eight trailer units to be installed on the lot, and each trailer has four individual “mini motel rooms” inside.

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The lot is in a residential neighborhood, surrounded by apartment buildings. People in the area say they were already worried about contracting the virus, and having the isolation site so close only escalates their fears.

“It’s really scary. That’s just crazy to me,” said Cheyenne Payne, who lives in one of the nearby apartment buildings.

“There are so many people here, so many elderly, babies. People who can get sick really easily, like me. I have a medical history,” Payne said.

King County Executive Dow Constantine announced Monday the county would purchase a motel, plus use 14 modular units intended to be housing for homeless people, to instead be used for people showing symptoms of coronavirus.

On Wednesday, county officials announced they had purchased the Econo Lodge in Kent, located at 1233 Central Avenue North and just off Highway 167, to house coronavirus patients for recovery and isolation.

The motel includes assets such as hard surfaces, seamless floors, and independent heating and cooling for each room.

City of Kent officials held a press conference Wednesday, saying they were not notified about the plans for a quarantine site and expressed major concerns about how safety measures would be put in place.

Mayor Dana Ralph said she heard about the plans through rumors that were circulating on Monday, and had to call King County to find out.

“We do understand we all share a role in keeping the county safe and the region safe,” Ralph said. “But we are concerned about the choice of the location, the lack of communication, and the lack of what we’ve been able to determine is a plan for making sure this facility is safe,” she said.

The city has concerns about whether the area will be fenced and what kind of security it will have, as well as whether the county will be notifying nearby businesses.

A spokesperson from the King County executive’s office, Chase Gallagher, said Wednesday afternoon, “The process of figuring those things out is underway.”

“We want to make sure hospital capacity is not being taken up by people who need to be in isolation or recovery. We need the hospital capacity for people who need treatment now,” Constantine said.

The 14 modular units were being stored on Harbor Island. Six of them are already being used in SoDo as transitional housing.

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Six to eight units will go on the lot in White Center. An existing building that’s been vacant for about a decade will be demolished to make room for the trailers.

The remainder of the modular units will go on one or two other county-owned lots — but exactly where is still being decided.

“It looks like a mini motel room. You’ve got two beds in there, you’ve got a sink, a bathroom, a closet,” said Barbara Ramey, a spokesperson with the King County Department of Executive Services.

The space will be used for people who aren’t sick enough to go to the hospital, yet can’t be in isolation at home, for instance, someone who is homeless or who has an immuno-compromised family member.

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Others who live in the area say they understand.

“I don’t like it but it has to go somewhere. Rather than being on the streets, contaminating other people, getting on the bus, they have somewhere they can actually quarantine them and watch them,” said Charlie Thomas.

King County said the first modular unit should be ready to house sick patients by the end of the week, and portable toilets and hand washing stations would be installed by then. They’re also working to install power and running water, but that work will take longer.