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Boeing Field, two other properties to be used for housing homeless people in King County during coronavirus pandemic

UPDATED: Sat., March 14, 2020

Dozens of grounded Boeing 737 Max airplanes crowd a parking area adjacent to Boeing Field in Seattle on Aug. 15, 2019. (Elaine Thompson / AP)
Dozens of grounded Boeing 737 Max airplanes crowd a parking area adjacent to Boeing Field in Seattle on Aug. 15, 2019. (Elaine Thompson / AP)
By Jim Brunner, Dahlia Bazzaz and Sydney Brownstone Seattle Times

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King County announced Saturday it will repurpose the arrivals section of Boeing Field to create additional shelter space for vulnerable people living in a crowded Seattle shelter as well as two new spaces for COVID-19 quarantine or recovery for those who are homeless or who can’t self-isolate without infecting the people they live with.

The two quarantine or isolation properties are the Eastgate parking lot in Bellevue and a motel in Issaquah the county just leased.

City and county officials have scrambled to open up new space to create social distancing in crowded shelters, which house a vulnerable population at risk of contracting severe COVID-19 illnesses. Officials anticipate “hundreds or thousands” of people needing to use quarantine facilities in the coming weeks who cannot isolate at home or do not have homes of their own, according to Leo Flor, director of the county’s Department of Community and Human Services.

To “prevent people from becoming ill in the first place,” a news release from the county read, the airport began providing shelter at the Arrivals Hall for about 80 men on Friday night age 55 and older who usually live at St. Martin De Porres in Seattle.

At that shelter, which usually has 212 men over the age of 50 on mats spaced 6 inches apart, many people have underlying health conditions. The people at St. Martin’s are not alone: In the 2019 survey portion of the one-night count of King County’s homeless, 27% of respondents said they had chronic health conditions.

To create more social distancing inside typically crowded shelters with vulnerable residents, Seattle opened Exhibition Hall at Seattle Center last week as an overflow shelter for healthier residents of Downtown Emergency Services Center shelters.

In a week, a heated tent with flooring will be set up at the Eastgate parking lot at 13620 Eastgate Way. It will be used for isolation and recovery, and it will have round-the-clock security and health services.

The county also just finalized a lease for the Issaquah Motel, 1801 12th Ave. NW. The county is considering using this site as a place for expanded “medical support for vulnerable populations or isolation for people who do not require significant social support services,” the release said. The space could also host people in recovery to free up beds in local hospitals and medical facilities.

Issaquah Mayor Mary Lou Pauly welcomed the move.

“These types of medical facilities are needed throughout King County as we, as a region, respond to this public health crisis,” Pauly said in a statement Saturday. “We are in close contact with King County, local police and firefighters to ensure this new facility will take all necessary precautions to keep our broader community safe.”

Pauly noted the King County lease is temporary and that the owner intends to reopen after a renovation of the hotel.

Saturday’s announcement of new properties follows an incident where a person unexpectedly left emergency quarantine at a former Kent motel while awaiting COVID-19 test results on Friday. The test results came back negative, but not before the action released a wave of worry and anger in the South King County city about the siting of the emergency quarantine facility.

King County is now fencing the Kent motel, where no one is currently staying, and evaluating staffing changes.

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