King County changes policy for Kent motel after homeless person leaves quarantine site, boards Metro bus

KENT, Wash. -- King County is changing the protocol for the motel the county bought to isolate and quarantine potential coronavirus cases after a homeless person who took a room there left the site, stole from a nearby convenience store then boarded a Metro bus.

King County's decision to purchase a former Econo Lodge in Kent to use as a quarantine site for coronavirus cases caused widespread outcry from Kent city leaders and residents. The city of Kent has sued King County to stop the motel from being a coronavirus site, but so far the court has not issued an emergency injunction to stop the motel from being used.

According to a news release from King County government, on March 12, a person experiencing homelessness was tested for COVID-19 and accepted the offer to stay at the Econo Lodge while the test results were pending.

The same morning, the person disregarded the instructions of an on site security guard, left the motel, reportedly shoplifted from a nearby convenience store, then hopped on a northbound Route 153 King County Metro bus. (The bus has since been taken out of service for cleaning.)

"My fears for this facility have come true," Mayor Dana Ralph said on the city's Facebook page. "The things I predicted would happen now have happened. We realize we have a role to play in this crisis but we have asked repeatedly for actual security, real fencing and safety measures put in place for the general public and the patients at the facility."

The county maintains that the site is a necessary response to the emergency unfolding in King County. But Kent city leaders complain the county avoided obtaining permits to use the site and have yet to fully explain how it plans to ensure patients abide by isolation rules.

King County said from here on out, the temporary housing in White Center and the motel in Kent will not be used for people who need social services like mental health counseling and help with homelessness.

There have only been two people to take rooms at the Econo Lodge so far. The first person tested negative and has since left the motel.

The county anticipates the vast majority of people who need to quarantine or isolate will do so at home.