Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday said he was banning gatherings of more than 250 people in the state’s three most populous counties.
The ban was being placed on Snohomish, King, and Pierce counties, Inslee said at a press conference.
“It is clear that our state needs a more vigorous and more comprehensive and more aggressive a position if we are going to slow the spread of this epidemic,” he said. “This is not just your ordinary flu. This is a virus that the experts tell us are (sic) at least 10 times more potentially fatal than the flu,” he added, citing health experts officials have spoken to.
Community, civic, leisure, faith-based, and sporting events, as well as concerts, parades, fundraisers, and other gatherings, are banned if the gatherings include 250 or more people.
The virus, which causes a disease called COVID-19, has killed 24 people in the state, including 22 in King County alone.
King County Executive Dow Constantine said that the county’s public health officer, Jeff Duchin, would be signing an order that prohibits gatherings with fewer than 250 people unless the gatherings meet public health guidelines, including social distancing measures.
The ban on gatherings “will help ensure that a health crisis does not become a humanitarian disaster,” Constantine told reporters.
As of Wednesday, here were 267 patients who tested positive for COVID-19, according to the state Department of Health. Inslee said officials suspect there are hundreds if not thousands of others who haven’t been diagnosed but have COVID-19.
The state has one of the largest outbreaks of the new virus in the country, along with California, Massachusetts, and New York, which on Tuesday announced a containment area where a large cluster of cases have been confirmed.
There are around 1,000 confirmed cases nationwide, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield told lawmakers in Washington. Thirty-one deaths have been reported to his agency.
Most of the 190 cases in Washington are linked to a cluster of cases among residents, visitors, or staff members of the Life Care Center of Kirkland, just outside Seattle.
Over half the patients in the state are 60 or older.
A number of businesses and schools in the Puget Sound region this week announced closures or limitations, with Amazon and Facebook among the employers asking some workers to work from home.
Schools, including the University of Washington, have shifted to online classes, as the Seattle & King County Public Health advised social distancing measures.
“Employers should encourage and enable as many employees as possible to telecommute and follow other guidance for businesses. Avoid bringing large groups of people together, and consider postponing events and gatherings. Stay home when you are sick. Do not go out in public when you are sick. If you are ill in any way call your doctor’s office first before going in,” the department said on Tuesday.
People should try to avoid close contact with people who are sick as well as frequently wash their hands and clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces in their house like tables, doorknobs, and light switches.
Inslee on Wednesday said that people who are older or have underlying health conditions should consider not going out and that people who can work from home should. Employers should facilitate remote work.
Schools will remain open for the time being because data indicates children don’t often experience severe cases of the illness, though they do spread the virus like other people. Inslee said he was asking all school districts to plan for school closures in the next several days.
Inslee believes the measures being implemented in the state will be put into place in the rest of the United States in the coming weeks.
“Unfortunately we know that the rest of the nation will be where we are, perhaps in a couple or three weeks,” he said. “And we hope that the things we’re doing aggressively here can set a template for the rest of the country.”