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1st US death from COVID-19 reported in Washington state

evergreenhealth in kirland, washington
A man who was a patient at EvergreenHealth, a hospital in Kirkland, Wash., died of COVID-19. The man, who was in his 50s, had underlying health conditions. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

The U.S. reported its first death from COVID-19 (opens in new tab), a man in his 50s with underlying health conditions in Washington state, officials said in a news conference today (Feb. 29).

The man was a patient at EvergreenHealth, a hospital in Kirkland, Washington, a suburb of Seattle.

In addition, a long-term care facility in the same city is facing a possible outbreak, with two presumptive positive cases, Dr. Jeffrey S. Duchin, the chief health officer for Seattle and King County, Washington, said in the news conference. One of those cases is a health care worker in her 40s, and the other is a woman in her 70s who is in serious condition. That facility, Life Care Center in Kirkland, has 180 staff and 108 residents. So far, 52 other people, including staff and patients, are reporting respiratory symptoms, but have not been tested yet, Duchin said. Health department officials have yet to find a link between the two cases, he added.

"In Washington, we are starting to see some spread in the community. Therefore, we feel the risk to the public is increasing," Dr. Kathy Lofy, State Health Officer and the Chief Science Officer for Washington State Department of Health, said in the news conference.

If the virus seems to be spreading, they may recommend certain measures to contain the spread, such as canceling large public gatherings, Lofy said.

The man who died was not tested until yesterday (Feb. 28) by a lab in Washington state, in part because the lab only recently acquired the ability to test suspected cases, and in part because the man only recently met the testing criteria issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Duchin said. Until this week, the CDC recommended testing only for those with COVID-19 symptoms who had recently traveled to China. 

While local spread in certain communities may be occurring, the overall risk from the virus remains low for most Americans, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, Director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC, said at the news conference.

"Most people in the U.S. will have little immediate risk of exposure to the virus," Messonnier said. 

As a result, guidelines to reduce the spread of the disease will be tailored to each community, depending on the level of disease transmission found, she said.

"What will be appropriate for communities with local transmission won't necessarily be appropriate for communities with no local transmission," Messonnier said.

Originally published on Live Science.

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Tia is the managing editor and was previously a senior writer for Live Science. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, Wired.com and other outlets. She holds a master's degree in bioengineering from the University of Washington, a graduate certificate in science writing from UC Santa Cruz and a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. Tia was part of a team at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that published the Empty Cradles series on preterm births, which won multiple awards, including the 2012 Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism.