Tukwila Homeland Security, immigration building closed after employee possibly exposed to coronavirus

TUKWILA, Wash. — A Department of Homeland Security building in Tukwila that contains the Seattle Field Office for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services closed Tuesday after officials learned an employee there was possibly exposed to coronavirus, a Homeland Security official said.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Patrol and Citizenship and Immigration Services employees all work in the building.

Acting Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli said in a series of tweets Tuesday morning that the department learned late Monday that an employee at the Seattle Field Office on 12500 Tukwila International Blvd. started showing flu-like symptoms four days after visiting a nursing home in Kirkland that has been linked to COVID-19 cases.

Out of an abundance of caution and to prevent potential spread, the office was ordered closed.

In a statement later in the day, officials said the office would remain closed for 14 days, and that all employees were directed to self-quarantine.

Officials said the employee came to work in the days between the possible exposure Feb. 22 and getting sick Feb. 26. The employee made the visit before it was known that residents there had contracted the virus.

Officials said the employee stayed home while feeling sick.

"I am pleased to report that this employee embodied what it means to lead by example. The employee and their family took every precaution and followed the guidance of public health officials," said DHS Acting Secretary Chad F. Wolf in a statement to the House Homeland Security Committee.

The sudden closure came as a surprise for people who had appointments, some booked weeks ago.

"They should have told us and we wouldn't have come all the way over here," said Sonia Gonzalez, who drove two hours from the Washington coast for an appointment to get a work permit.

"I didn't receive any notice, any email, any notification. This morning, I double checked my appointment," said Harve Kidiadi, who was scheduled to renew his green card.

"Today I was going to be sworn in, so today was my citizenship day," Beata Bissett said. "I'm OK with them shutting down if that's what they need to do to be safe for the public. I believe everyone has a responsibility to everyone to be clean and sanitary and careful."

The closure was especially frustrating for Phil Gorman, who needs paperwork to return to the U.S. after visiting his sick mother in Australia.

“Leaving in a few hours for a flight and the office is shut,” he said Tuesday morning. “It’s apparently a 369-minute wait for a callback from an officer who can possibly help me.”