An employee of a Washington state Toyota dealership has tested positive for the coronavirus, the store confirmed on social media. Toyota of Kirkland has opted to close the store for a deep cleaning and disinfecting, according to a statement provided to Automotive News by Toyota Motor North America.
The closure Thursday comes nearly two days after the suburban Seattle dealership learned that a store employee has the virus. It also follows the dealership’s Facebook post late Wednesday evening sharing the information, which prompted concern from customers and employees that the store had remained open.
“The evening of March 3, 2020, we learned that one of our employees tested positive for COVID-19. We are in direct contact with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and following their guidelines to reduce the risk and spread of the virus,” the dealership said in a statement released by Toyota Motor North America. “We have notified our employees and are in the process of contacting our customers to advise them of the situation. The health and safety of our employees, customers and community is our top priority. As a result, we have made the decision to close our dealership until March 9, 2020, to deep clean and disinfect the entire facility.”
Messages were left seeking comment Thursday for Toyota of Kirkland's general manager. The store, which is owned by O'Brien Auto Group, remained open Thursday morning, according to employees answering the phone at the dealership. A Toyota spokesman said around 2 p.m. Eastern that the store was closing.
Toyota also said the dealership is asking employees with “flu-like” symptoms to seek medical care and to stay self-quarantined for at least 14 days. The store’s janitors also have been asked to provide extra nightly services to disinfect surfaces such as phones, keyboards, door handles and desks. Food and beverage services will be stopped, Toyota said. That includes the dealership's deli and its soda and coffee machines.
Going forward, valet and service technicians also will use a new set of gloves per customer vehicle, the automaker said.
In its Facebook post, Toyota of Kirkland said: "We continue to take the precautions recommended by local, state and federal agencies to limit any possible spread of the virus. We have also notified our employees of proactive steps they can take to protect themselves. In addition, we encourage all customers and employees who may be experiencing symptoms of the virus to contact their health care provider. We will continue to work with and support our employees and customers as we address this issue."
A Toyota spokesman told Automotive News Thursday that the automaker had just learned of the situation at the store and was developing a ‘dealer information kit’ to help guide them through this process.”
The dealership's Facebook post generated more than 60 comments by midday Thursday. Some thanked the store for sharing the information, while others urged the store to close for deep cleaning. One woman expressed worry in a comment, writing that she had her car serviced at the dealership on Monday and ate a cookie prepared by store staff.
Ten people have died in Washington state from the virus, with most of the deaths in King County, where Kirkland is located.
Toyota of Kirkland is in close proximity to many of the early COVID-19 cases in Washington state. At 2 p.m. Pacific on Thursday, a few customer vehicles and staff still lingered in the dealership's service area. Toyota of Kirkland had publicly announced the four-day closure hours earlier. Employees were still on hand wrapping up business.
Larry P. Vellequette and Alex Kwanten contributed to this report.