Kent Mayor Dana Ralph’s worst fears about the coronavirus pandemic were realized with a Friday morning phone call.
A potentially-infected patient with COVID-19 had fled a King County’s voluntary quarantine/isolation facility – a rundown, former Kent motel that opened this week to house and treat those who were exposed to the virus.
From surveillance video obtained by Kent Police, the patient – a homeless man – dodged a security guard and left the motel-turned-quarantine facility on Kent’s busy Central Avenue North around 7:30 a.m. Friday. The man carefully crossed the street, walked into a Shell gas station/7-Eleven convenience store, stole snacks and a bottle of water, walked out and boarded a northbound King County Metro bus.
His whereabouts are unknown. Authorities were notified.
The route 153 bus was removed from service and sanitized, the county statement said.
The patient, according to county officials, voluntarily offered to stay at the facility on Thursday, awaiting test results to determine if he had the virus. The man was the second to stay at the facility this week, according to county officials.
Late Friday, the man’s test results had come back negative.
Ralph received a call at approximately 8:30 a.m. from the victimized business owner. She immediately advised the county of the situation.
“The fears that we have stated and the concerns that we have had from the beginning when we knew this was going to be put in Kent at that former hotel have all come true,” Ralph said at a late-morning new conference at City Hall. “… In the city of Kent, we have a role to play in stopping the spread of this virus.”
Ralph said she is angry and frustrated with the county’s lack of direct communication and coordination in managing the facility. This lapse in security should not have happened, she said, adding that the city is still unaware of the county’s safety measures and procedures regarding the operation of the facility.
“Our requests have been consistently for security measures to be in place, so something like this does not happen,” Ralph said. “… As mayor my role is to keep our community safe … to put all the precautions in place. We’re asking for other safety measures, and those have not been put in place by the county.
“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.”
Ralph had asked King County leaders to keep her city “in the loop” about the facility and its plans.
“We don’t have authority over that property,” Ralph said. “The planning process was not followed. King County is not engaging us in any meaningful way. We still have a long list of questions that are unanswered, which we will continue to pursue.
“I’m frustrated and I feel like our entire city through this entire process continues to be disrespected.”
In a statement, King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn said “that a person experiencing homelessness” who was awaiting COVID-19 test results while isolating at the Kent motel facility left the facility against county advice.
“Shortly after (Seattle & King County Public Health) announced the approach of housing suspected coronavirus cases in locations throughout King County, I was given assurances that these quarantine facilities would be secured, and in the best interests of our residents during this crisis, supported Public Health in their need to site these facilities.
“I am extremely disappointed to hear that a quarantine patient left the facility in Kent and is now back in the general population,” Dunn added. “This loss of trust means I will have much more stringent standards when considering any proposed quarantine sites in King County.
“Moving forward, I will only support quarantine sites that clearly do not endanger the health and welfare of the surrounding residential and business community,” Dunn said, “and where patients quarantined at the facilities are held an appropriate amount of time, as determined by a medical professional. Finally, law enforcement must be present and provided with the authority to enforce Public Health’s guidelines at each site.”
Kent Police Chief Rafael Padilla said the facility is not secure, nor is it safe. Historically, police have had to deal with criminal activity at the motel, but the building is no longer sanitary to justify police-run operations, such as a sting for human trafficking.
“It is not a suitable place for most people,” he said, “and I don’t even think it is suitable for our homeless community.”
Kent Police responded to the businessman’s call, but did not receive any emergency notification from the county. Police confirmed the report and obtained security video from the store that follows the patient’s escape.
“We were concerned that voluntary isolation or quarantine does not effectively work and does pose a threat to our community,” Padilla said. “It is not working.”
City leaders understand that the quarantine facility is voluntary, and that there is nothing legally that allows the police department to force someone to stay there.
“(By law) the patient who left has the right to leave,” Padilla added.
But Kent Police are asking for tighter security measures at the facility.
“Someone who can pick up the phone and call 911 and say, ‘We have a problem, someone is leaving the facility. Can we get some help?’ We don’t have any of that,” Padilla said.
Ralph added: “You don’t have the right to force people to lock (patients) in. That’s not what we are looking for, but there should be some sort of process. If you’re staying at a hotel, you have to check out, right? You have to turn your key in. There is nothing that stops this from happening. … And this was our concern from Day 1.”
Money and courts
The city of Kent continues to fight the county over the use and purpose of the facility.
A King County Superior Court judge on March 6 denied a temporary restraining order against King County filed by the city of Kent to halt the opening of a public-health-coronavirus-quarantine facility.
Ralph directed the city attorney to file a temporary restraining order against King County government in an effort to prevent the opening of a public health coronavirus quarantine facility at the former Econo Lodge, 1233 Central Ave. N. The county purchased the motel for $4 million this week.
The King County Council on Tuesday approved a suite of legislation to aid in the county’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, including putting millions of dollars into the dilapidated 85-room motel.
The package includes $28.2 million in funding for COVID-19 response, of which $15 million will go toward the purchase and improvements for the motel. Another $4.5 million will support temporary staffing to manage the motel.
VIDEO LINKS: vimeo.com/397519231/40114b755c