Homeland Security facility in Washington state closes after employee visited nursing home affected by coronavirus outbreak

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The Department of Homeland Security logo is seen at the new ICE Cyber Crimes Center expanded facilities in Fairfax, Virginia July 22, 2015. The forensic lab combats cybercrime cases involving underground online marketplaces, child exploitation, intellectual property theft and other computer and online crimes. AFP HOTO/Paul J. Richards (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

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A Department of Homeland Security facility in King County, Washington, has been temporarily closed after an employee visited a nursing home that was affected by the coronavirus outbreak, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf announced Tuesday.

Wolf told the House Homeland Security Committee that the decision was made “out of an abundance of caution.” He said employees have been told to “telework,” if possible, to reduce the chance that it will spread, and that the facility will remain closed for 14 days. Employees were also “directed to self-quarantine for 14 days.”

Wolf, who said he learned of the situation late Monday night, said the employee visited a family member at the Life Care Facility in Kirkland, Washington, before it was known that the facility was impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. The nursing care and rehabilitation facility is now at the center of the outbreak in the US, with four deaths tied to the site and relatives and friends of its 108 patients barred from visiting.

Six people have now died in Washington state from the novel coronavirus, according to health officials.

“I am pleased to report that this employee embodied what it means to lead by example,” Wolf said. “The employee and their family took every precaution and followed the guidance of public health officials. 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.”

Acting Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli wrote in a series of tweets Tuesday morning that the employee was exhibiting “flu-like symptoms four days after visiting the nursing home” and that the individual showed up to work in the days between their possible exposure and when they became ill.

The department “takes the safety & health of our employees & applicants seriously,” Cuccinelli wrote. “We’re following CDC’s guidelines & encourage all employees and applicants to stay home if they are feeling ill or exhibiting any flu-like symptoms.”

Rep. Bennie Thompson, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, had kicked off Tuesday’s hearing by expressing concern about the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus, saying Wolf was there “under extraordinarily troubling circumstances.”

“Americans are rightfully concerned about the coronavirus that has spread across the globe and claimed the lives of thousands, including at least six here at home,” said Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat. “They are looking to their government for leadership and guidance. Unfortunately, the Trump administration has not been equal to the task so far.”

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