As Mike Pence prepared to visit Washington state and tens of thousands of technology firm employees were advised to work from home to try and reduce the spread of the virus, authorities said they would be probing the LifeCare Centre in Kirkland, a suburb of Seattle.
Ten of the US’s eleven fatalities have been in Washington state, and most of them were residents of the care facility. At least 39 cases have been reported in the state and officials believe the virus may have been undetected for weeks.
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Seema Verma, the head of the centres for medicare and medicaid services (CMS), part of the department of health and human services, said in a media briefing she was ordering state authorities monitoring care facilities to focus on limiting infections.
The action was being take, she said, to “make sure that we’re doing everything we can as a health care system to contain the spread of the coronavirus”.
She said the CMS was sending inspector to LifeCare, along with experts from the centres for disease control and prevention.
Last April, Washington state fined LifeCare $67,000 over infection-control deficiencies following two flu outbreaks that affected 17 patients and staff. An unannounced follow-up inspection in June determined that Life Care had corrected the problems, said Ms Verma.
The probe came as tens of thousands of employees from companies such as Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks and Expedia, were advised to work from home.
Amazon, which has its headquarter in Seattle, recommended employees in the area to work from home until the end of the month, after an employee tested positive for the coronavirus on Tuesday.
Also, Facebook said a contractor at its Seattle office was diagnosed with the coronavirus and that it would shut the location until March 9. “A contractor based in our Stadium East office has been diagnosed with the COVID-19,” the company said.
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Officials have suggested organisations postpone or cancel activities that involve gatherings of more than ten people.
“We have encouraged people who are responsible for large gatherings to give consideration whether it really makes sense to carry those on right now,” said governor Jay Inslee said. “Right now, we are deferring to the judgment of these organisations.”
On Wednesday night, California declared a state of emergency as officials said an elderly person from Placer County, near Sacramento, had died after testing positive after returning from a San Francisco-to-Mexico cruise.
In the nation’s capital, Donald Trump again played down the threat the virus posed.
He told Fox News the 3.4 per cent mortality rate announced by the World Health Organisation was “false” and suggesting it was under 1 per cent. He said: “This is really my hunch.”
Additional reporting by agencies