City leaders are upset with how King County picked an Econo Lodge in Kent as a quarantine facility for people with the coronavirus and the potential long-term use of the facility.
“We are very concerned about the public health and safety implications this has for our community,” Mayor Dana Ralph said at a Wednesday press conference in Council Chambers at City Hall. “They are replicating and bringing a situation similar in scale to the Life Care Center of Kirkland and dropping it off in Kent.”
Ralph said the city found out about the plans through a third party on Monday.
“At no point in the process did the county notify us of their plan,” Ralph said. “We later found out that King County Public Health has been looking at this site for months with the intent of using it for public health purposes, including homelessness and as a site for other dangerous public health quarantines. We are concerned the coronavirus is a pretext for the siting of a longer term homelessness or quarantine facility in Kent.”
King County is purchasing the Econo Lodge, 1233 Central Ave. N. The Econo Lodge is open for business and not a vacant building.
King County officials released details Wednesday afternoon that it is buying the 85-bed Econo Lodge for $4 million to house patients for recovery and isolation dealing with COVID-19. The motel, which includes assets such as hard surfaces, seamless floors, and independent heating and cooling for each room, will be used to isolate patients in recovery. Public Health personnel will monitor patients daily.
The Facilities Management Division of the Department of Executive Services is using an existing appropriation to cover the purchase of the motel for now.
The department is asking the County Council for an appropriation of $5.5 million from the rainy day fund to cover the costs of the purchase. The funds would cover the cost of the motel, tenant improvements, hiring up to 11 current motel employees and the ground lease.
King County officials said the Econo Lodge in Kent was the only site that was on the market that met Public Health’s criteria, which includes a separate HVAC in each unit and separate doors for each unit that open to the outside, not a hallway.
“We understand that we all play a role in the response to the coronavirus,” Ralph said. “And we want the county’s response to this crisis to be successful, but we are concerned about their lack of a concrete plan to activate and utilize the site. We have asked numerous questions that they don’t have an answer for. This has not been a transparent process.”
Ralph has concerns about how patients will be monitored.
“We have confirmed there is nothing requiring a patient to stay at the facility,” Ralph said. “They have the ability to leave and impact neighboring residents and businesses including neighboring hotels, Bowen Scarff Ford, Carpinito Brothers, Denny’s, 7-Eleven and Kent Bowl.”
Ralph said she was unsure if the county plans to house homeless, college students, travelers or others that might have the coronavirus. She said the 1970s style motel fits what the county wants in a site because of its exterior entrances to each room.
City Councilmember Bill Boyce also spoke at the press conference.
“I am deeply disappointed in the action by the county,” Boyce said. “Kent is one of most diverse community in the United States. We have not seen the strong economic growth as in Seattle and the Eastside. This will only cripple our growth. … It is wrong to put the site not next to the outbreak but in the heart of one of the most diverse communities and shipping patients to Kent without any regards to our community.”
Police Chief Rafael Padilla and Puget Sound Fire Chief Matt Morris each spoke briefly at the press conference about their concerns for the facility in Kent.
Ten people (nine in King County, one in Snohomish County) have died in the state from COVID-19, according to the state Department of Health website. Another 231 people are under public health supervision.
“The county plans to move patients into this facility within 9 to 10 days but still have not inquired with the city about permits or occupancy of the building,” Ralph said. “Our request and expectation is that the county will put this property back on the real estate market as soon as this crisis is over and they will not use it for a permanent site for any other activity.”