City of Kent disappointed county did not seek input in motel purchase for COVID-19 isolation facility

KENT, Wash. – King County announced it will be purchasing a motel in Kent to be used as an isolation facility for people dealing with COVID-19.

Officials said the Econo Lodge located on Central Avenue North will be staffed and monitored by Public Health personnel. The county anticipates people will begin coming to the motel by the end of the week, once all customers have left.

No cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Kent Mayor Dana Ralph said the city felt blindsided by the county’s decision.

“At no point in their processing did the county notify us of this plan,” said Ralph. “This has not been a transparent process.”

“The substantial lack of information regarding the logistics and daily operations of this facility prevents us as an RFA from determining the level of community risk it presents,” said Chief Matthew Morris of Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority, which is based in Kent.

King County is purchasing the motel for about $4 million. There are 85 beds – and officials said assets like the seamless hardwood floors and the HVAC system make it an ideal place for isolation. County leaders said people can come at their own will and follow medical instructions.

First responders, including Kent Police Chief Rafael Padilla, said they have a problem with the idea.

“This will be a voluntary intake facility. Which means those being quarantined can come and go as they please. Under the current situation, we will have zero authority to physically keep people from leaving. What this means is that at any point a patient can simply walk into our community and spread the virus,” said Padilla.

County Executive Dow Constantine said that yes, people can come and go, but said Econo Lodge will be staffed and monitored. He also mentioned plans are still being finalized.

Ralph said the city learned about King County’s decision to use the space through a third party on Monday afternoon. She said the city was able to have a formal conversation with the county executive’s office Tuesday about concerns about public health and safety.

“The county intends to bring sick people from wealthier and less diverse communities and drop them off in Kent without regard for our community or the people in it,” said Ralph. “We are also very disappointed because this location is in the middle of one of our main gateways into the city of Kent. We have invested millions in public dollars into infrastructure around this location and now visitors and residents will be greeted by a public health quarantine facility.”

People who work in the area also expressed concerns.

“It’s right across the street from where I work,” said Madeline Sampson, who works at a coffee stand near the Econo Lodge. “That’s literally 200 feet to my left, so definitely puts a little fear on my back about getting sick.”

With so much developing about the infection, some people in the community said, unfortunately, the isolation facility is necessary.

“If the people aren’t quarantined in a specific spot-- they’re at their home, going here and there it’s just going to perpetuate the problem instead of being part of the solution,” said Stephen Blanchard, a customer at a convenience store across the street from the Econo Lodge.

County officials said they understood the city’s concerns and frustrations, but further explained this is an emergency and they have to move with urgency.

Ralph said city leaders are demanding the county not use the facility for situations like this in the future.