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Vehicle Maintenance Utility Service Worker Thiphavanh 'Loui' Thepvongsa wipes down an off-duty bus with a disinfectant during a routine cleaning at the King County Metro Atlantic and Central Base in Seattle, Washington, U.S. March 2, 2020. REUTERS/Jason Redmond

Despite deaths, so far no shutdown orders in Seattle area

SEATTLE — As the coronavirus spread through Asia officials closed the schools in China, Japan and Hong Kong but at the epicenter of the outbreak in the United States, officials in Washington have so far not ordered that classrooms be shuttered or activities canceled.

Increasingly people are calling on government leaders to be more aggressive as they try to contain the virus that causes the disease called COVID-19, which researchers say may have been circulating for weeks undetected in the Seattle area.

Washington state has reported a total of nine coronavirus deaths, and and most were residents of a nursing home in suburban Seattle. There have been at least 27 reported cases in the Seattle area. On Tuesday an Amazon spokesperson said an employee at its huge campus in Seattle had tested positive for the virus.

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Individual schools and businesses have closed and several schools are mulling teaching students online in the event of prolonged closures over health concerns. However there are increasing calls for more widespread action from area officials. An online petition calling for the University of Washington to close its 45,000-student Seattle campus had more than 20,000 signatures.

Washington state and Seattle have declared emergencies, which gives leaders broad powers to suspend activities. But so far no direct orders have been issued.

“We are not making a request formally right now for events to be canceled, but people should be prepared for that possibility and need to be thinking about it,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said earlier this week.

Some schools and businesses aren’t waiting.

School officials in Renton, south of Seattle, announced late Tuesday that Hazen High School would close for the rest of the week after a student tested positive for the coronavirus. More than 15,000 people signed a petition to close schools in the Lake Washington School District, which is near the suburban nursing facility hard hit by the outbreak. A similar petition for the Bellevue schools had more than 10,000 signatures on Wednesday.

The F5 technology company closed its 44-story tower in downtown Seattle Monday after learning an employee had been in contact with someone who had tested positive for the virus and outdoor recreation giant REI closed its Seattle-area campuses for two days out of an abundance of caution.

Local and state health officials have not recommended school closures or cancellation of activities but said they respect the decisions of local school leaders.

A federal immigration field office near Tukwila also closed Tuesday after an employee visited the Life Care Center. Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said the decision was made “out of an abundance of caution” and that it would remain closed for 14 days.

And health officials in North Carolina reported Tuesday that a person from Wake County tested positive for the illness after visiting the long-term care facility in Kirkland, Washington, where many of the state’s cases originated.

Among the newly reported deaths in Washington was a man in his 50s who had been a resident of Life Care Center in Kirkland, who died at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle on Feb. 26. Tests later determined he died of COVID-19. In an updated message on the nursing home’s website, Life Care Center said it is screening workers for symptoms before they start work and as they leave. Residents with symptoms are placed in isolation. The facility is still prohibiting visits from family and has set up an email for news media questions to keep phone lines open for family members with questions.

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An Amazon employee who works in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood tested positive for the new virus, The Seattle Times reported Tuesday afternoon, citing a message from the company.

“We’re supporting the affected employee who is in quarantine,” a company spokesperson said in an emailed statement to The Associated Press.

The employee went home feeling ill on Feb. 25 and has not returned to work since, the message from Amazon to employees said. The message said Amazon was told Tuesday that the employee tested positive for COVID-19.

Other employees working in close contact with the affected employee have been notified, the message said.

King County moved the first of 14 modular units on Tuesday to a site in White Center. They plan to house COVID-19 patients in the units so they can receive treatment in isolation.

And the state House on Tuesday unanimously passed a measure that would draw $100 million from the state’s emergency “rainy day” fund to help pay for the response.

AP writer Rachel La Corte contributed from Olympia, Washington, and AP writer Lisa Baumann contributed from Seattle.

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