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Rantz: Seattle-area homeless squatters vandalized coronavirus quarantine motel

King County purchased a motel in Kent to quarantine coronavirus patients. (Deedee Sun/KIRO 7)

Homeless people vandalized and squatted in the Kent coronavirus quarantine motel meant to house people who test positive for COVID-19.

These alarming incidents come just two weeks after a homeless patient left the quarantine motel, allegedly stole from the 7-Eleven across the street, then hopped on a bus. Luckily, his test came back negative, though he caused not just a panic but forced officials to re-sanitize the affected areas.

Homeless coronavirus squatter(s)

Matt Markovich of KOMO TV reports the Kent Police Department suspects homeless squatters have broken into unlocked rooms at the Econolodge motel. It was recently purchased by King County to help isolate coronavirus patients and relieve area-hospitals. They believe the homeless individuals stay the night, then leave early in the morning.

It’s unclear how many are responsible, but Public Health of King County confirmed at least one instance of a man breaking into one room, and another being vandalized. It’s unclear if these two cases are connected.

Public Health assures the public that the rooms “are routinely locked.” The vandalized and squatted-in rooms were housed in Building C. A spokesperson with Public health tells the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH that “the County’s Facilities Management Division is replacing the locks to strengthen them now, although the work on Building C will not begin until Building B is completed.”

More troubling news

As I researched this story, I found more troubling news: The renovation of the motel isn’t yet complete. Yet, King County still housed one suspected homeless coronavirus patient on the premises over concerns raised by Kent Mayor Dana Ralph.

She has consistently complained the county wasn’t communicating plans with her over how they would use the facility, nor how the community would be protected from worst-case scenarios, like the homeless man walking out of the site.

Public Health told me that the County is currently renovating the buildings at the Econolodge. A spokeswoman said:

King County has nearly completed all renovation work in Building A, and has opened those rooms for people who need a place to isolate or quarantine due to COVID-19. The County is also working in Building B, ripping out old carpet and replacing it with hard flooring (a Public Health requirement) and other minor repairs as needed to each room.

Building C will be the last to be repaired. However, the County’s Facilities Management Division is replacing the locks to strengthen them now, although the work on Building C will not begin until Building B is completed.

Why not fully implement a plan before opening it up to anyone at all? They clearly opened it up too soon, which explains why the homeless coronavirus-suspected man was able to cause such havoc. Indeed, afterwards the incident, the county revised who would be allowed at the isolation center.

A rush job

Mayor Ralph has almost begged for a plan from the county, but she’s gotten mostly silence. And everything about this location seems rushed. She says she can’t even get King County Executive Dow Constantine on the phone for more than a couple minutes to discuss the concerns. That’s not good leadership from Constantine.

I understand we’re in a public health crisis and I appreciate any public official moving with urgency to put in place an effective plan. But urgency doesn’t mean you rush a project.

A rushed job means you’re not considering everything you ought to consider. This has already been the case at the Kent location. Perhaps it’s time to pause the patient intake, better secure the building, and make sure you have a plan in place.

Once you do a quick renovation, then start to bring people in. This seems reasonable and can be done with the urgency necessary to combat the coronavirus.

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here. Follow @JasonRantz on Twitter.

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