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'Ready for this to be over': Staff at Kirkland's Life Care Center, site of 1st US outbreak, receive second shots

The long-term care facility was the site of the first identified outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States, taking 46 lives.

KIRKLAND, Wash. — Today at Life Care Center of Kirkland, staff received the second dose of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine.

For many, this was an emotional milestone. This long term care facility once marked the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States.

In March 2020, before masks and social distancing images like this one were commonplace throughout the country, a man had to speak to a presumed relative through a window, capturing what would become our new reality.

“It was like a war zone. I can say it,” said Christy Carmichael, a physician assistant at Life Care Center of Kirkland.

Carmichael says she knew her patients were sick but didn’t know what was causing it and that hurt. It still does.

“The hardest part is, how do you explain to their family what is going on with their loved ones? You don’t even know what is going on. How do you explain it to their family? It’s the hardest,” she said.

COVID-19 reached Life Care Center in February 2020. In the weeks and months that followed the coronavirus would claim the life of 46 people associated with the facility – residents, staff and visitors.

“This shot is for everybody. I’m ready,” said Alice Cortez, a nurse manager before receiving her shot.

Eleven months after that first case, frontline staff members are receiving their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

“We’re all ready for this to be over and this injection is the avenue for that,” said Nancy Butner, the Northwest Division Vice President of Life Care Center.

Credit: KING 5

The vaccine is available to all staff and patients under the Washington state rollout, though not everyone has taken the option. To date, 87% of staff and 95% of residents have received the first dose.

“It concerns me, absolutely. I am a firm believer in vaccinations, and I believe everybody should get it. However people have a right to choose whether to get it or not to get it,” Butner said.

As we approach one year since the coronavirus entered the United States, this second dose is armor most will proudly wear as they continue a fight that isn’t over.

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