Concerns rise in Kent after man awaiting COVID-19 results leaves isolation site to shoplift

KENT, Wash. - Fears are rising for several concerned community members over a COVID-19 isolation facility in Kent. A man at the site awaiting test results was caught on surveillance cameras Friday shoplifting and leaving the area by bus.

“Today, what’s so frustrating is our worst fears have become a reality,” said Mark Scarff, president of Bowen Scarff Ford and Lincoln.

Leo Flor, director of the King County Department of Community and Human Services, said the man was homeless. He arrived at the facility Thursday evening and stayed for 12 hours.

Flor said the man was provided with meals while awaiting test results. King County officials confirmed Friday evening the man’s results were negative for COVID-19.

Business owners said they are frustrated because they already did not think the location was a good choice for the isolation site. The City of Kent does not have any coronavirus cases. Scarff said he was worried others would become infected.

“This is an outrage! It is right here at our doorstep—coronavirus. And it’s supposed to be contained, it’s not being contained, it has now walked out,” said Scarff. “It is absolute negligence, I feel, by King County allowing this to happen with no answers to how they’re going to deal with this.”

Surveillance cameras captured the man leaving the facility, crossing the street and entering a convenience store. He was followed by a security guard from the facility. Once inside the store, the video showed him touching several things before he put items inside the pockets of his sweatshirt.

King County officials said once the man left the store without paying for anything, he caught a King County Metro bus heading north on Route 153. The bus was taken out of service for cleaning and sanitation.

Kent city leaders said they have no word from the county on who he is or where he went.

“We have a saying in law enforcement—if it’s predictable, it’s preventable. This was predictable,” said Chief Rafael Padilla of the Kent Police Department

“I’m angry. I’m frustrated and I feel like our entire city through this process continues to be disrespected,” said Mayor Dana Ralph.

Ralph said King County has been leaving the city out of the conversation about how the facility is handled. She said they’ve been asking for more security at the site since the beginning.

“We know that you can’t make a medical facility a jail. That is not what we’re asking for. But we have been asking for fencing for almost two weeks now because it would at least slow down someone leaving and prevent exactly what happened this morning,” said Ralph.

Flor said, in the future, they will consider location and distance from public transportation when planning more isolation sites.

“How we staff them, how we support them are absolutely strategies that we are adjusting right now. We are going to continue to need this in our community. We are going to continue to need this more in our community. We have an obligation to make sure that we do this better because we think that this is a system that we are going to have to develop and deploy to keep the whole community safe for weeks and months,” said Flor.

“Public safety is at risk here. They need to shut this place down until they get it ready for patients,” said Scarff.

Flor said there is not enough staff to work at the isolation sites. He said the county is looking in the area and outside the region to find more staff.