Death toll from new coronavirus in Washington state hits 50

SEATTLE -- The death toll from the new coronavirus in Washington state reached 50 on Tuesday morning when Clark County health officials announced their first fatal cases.

The couple were hospitalized at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center last week and died Monday night, according to Clark County health officials. One had been living in a small adult family home, and the other was a resident of an assisted living community.

“This is a horrible tragedy,” said Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County health officer and Public Health director. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family during this time.”

Washington has the highest number of deaths in the U.S., with most being associated with a nursing home in Kirkland. By Monday, the number of positive cases topped 900.

Gov. Jay Inslee imposed strict new rules this week to help slow the spread of COVID-19. He mandated an immediate two-week closure of all restaurants, bars recreational facilities. He also increased the limits on large gatherings.

The new orders went into effect Monday night and will be in place through March 31.

“If we are living a normal life, we are not doing our jobs as Washingtonians,” Inslee said. “We cannot do that anymore. We need to make changes, regardless of size. All of us need to do more. We must limit the number of people we come in contact with. This is the new normal.”

King County continues to report the highest number of cases and deaths, with 488 cases as of Monday and 43 fatalities. Twenty-nine of those deaths were associated with the Life Care Center in Kirkland.

Snohomish County reported four deaths and had 200 positive cases. Grant County has lost one resident to the disease. Clark County has now reported two deaths.

Washington state health officials are expected to update the situation across the state by mid-Tuesday. Eighteen counties have reported cases.

Inslee is scheduled to sign a list of bills Tuesday to provide some relief to the state as it deals with COVID-19. One measure provides $200 million to fund the response to the coronavirus.

Another bill allows a crisis responder to conduct interviews with people who are at risk through a interactive video and audio technology.

A group of community and legal activists have submitted a letter to Inslee to implement a list of measures aimed at protecting people held in the state’s jails and prisons.

“People live in close contact with one another, social distancing is difficult, hygiene services and essential medical equipment is in short supply, and medical treatment is not easily accessible,” the letter said. “Once COVID-19 breaks out, it will likely spread quickly through our prisons and jails.”

They pointed out that a correctional officer at the Monroe Correctional Complex tested positive for the disease, putting inmates there at risk.

The group said the most effective way to stop the spread of coronavirus in the prisons would be to release elderly inmates and people who are within six months of release. They also urged the governor to help local governments find ways to reduce the jail populations.