KEY POINTS

  • The Department of Homeland Security has closed a Citizenship and Immigration Services field office after an employee showed COVID-19 symptoms
  • This employee visited an elderly family member at the Life Care Center of Kirkland, which is under lockdown
  • 27 firefighters and two cops in the city of Kirkland are in quarantine

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Tuesday said it had temporarily closed a Citizenship and Immigration Services field office located in Seattle after one of the office's employees began showing unmistakable signs of a COVID-19 infection. The office will remain closed for 14 days.

Washington state and King County, where Seattle is found, are the hotspots of the country's worsening coronavirus outbreak. The Washington State Department of Health confirms the death toll from COVID-19 stands at nine, as of Tuesday afternoon. It also revealed seven new cases in the state, bringing the total number of cases to 21.

All the deaths in the U.S. from COVID-19 occurred in Washington. The youngest of the deceased was a man in his 40s; the oldest was a woman in her 80s.

Acting Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli said the employee was exhibiting "flu-like symptoms four days after visiting the nursing home." He said this individual came to work in the days between his possible exposure and when he became ill.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf told the House Homeland Security Committee the employee visited a family member at the Life Care Center of Kirkland in the city of Kirkland in King County before the discovery of a widespread outbreak of COVID-19 in this facility for the elderly.

More than 50 people at Life Care are sick and are being tested for the virus. Four deaths are tied to the facility, and relatives and friends of its 108 patients are barred from visiting.

"The employee and their family took every precaution and followed the guidance of public health officials," said Wolff. "They stayed home from work when they felt ill, the family self-quarantined, and reported the exposure and their condition to their employers and other officials."

Wolff said the decision to close the Seattle field office was made "out of an abundance of caution." Employees were told to "telework," if possible, to limit infections, and were also "directed to self-quarantine for 14 days."

On the other hand, the Kirkland city council confirms 27 of the city's firefighters and two police officers of the Kirkland Police Department are in quarantine. It also said it has identified additional firefighters to place in quarantine.

"We anticipate that this could continue to happen as the situation evolves," said the council in a statement. "We have also been notified that some of our firefighters in quarantine are demonstrating flu like symptoms. We are working closely with Public Health-Seattle & King County and adhering to their testing protocols."

The council reassured residents the Kirkland Fire and Police Departments remain fully staffed and are responding to calls as normal.

The United States is now facing a potential coronavirus epidemic The United States is now facing a potential coronavirus epidemic Photo: AFP / Frederic J. BROWN