SEATTLE (AP) — Hoping to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday banned gatherings and events of more than 250 people in three Western Washington counties covering hundreds of miles and millions of people.
Inslee's proclamation applies to King, Snohomish and Pierce counties, which include the cities of Seattle, Tacoma and Everett, home to almost four million people. The order does not include schools or workplaces.
“This is not just your ordinary flu,” Inslee said. “This demands a response consistent with the nature of the threat.”
King County reported four new deaths from the new coronavirus on Wednesday. Three were residents of Life Care Center in Kirkland, where most of Washington state deaths have occurred. The fourth death was a woman living at the Redmond Care and Rehabilitation center. She died at EvergreenHealth on Tuesday.
Snohomish County reported late Wednesday a third death.
Washington has at least 30 COVID-19 deaths and more than 350 confirmed cases in at least 12 counties. Twenty-two of the deaths are linked to one suburban Seattle nursing home and authorities in King County said the virus has spread to at least 10 long-term care facilities. King County had 234 confirmed cases, Snohomish reported 75 and Pierce had 17 cases.
The governor's order prohibits “social, spiritual and recreational activities including, but not limited to, community, civic, public, leisure, faith-based, or sporting events; parades; concerts; festivals; conventions; fundraisers; and similar activities.”
It would cover sporting events like Seattle Mariners baseball and Seattle Sounders soccer games. Inslee said the ban on events and gatherings in the Seattle area would run through the month of March and could be extended.
Inslee said government had the authority to crackdown on groups or individuals who ignored the directive, but added he expected people would abide by the order. Asked specifically about penalties for violating the event size limit, he said: “The penalties are you might be killing your granddad if you don't do it.”
That decision could impact the Mariners first seven games of the season against the Texas Rangers (March 26-29) and Minnesota Twins (March 30-April 1), plus home games for the MLS Seattle Sounders, XFL Seattle Dragons and a pair of junior hockey teams in the area.
Also Wednesday, the Seattle Public School system announced it will close due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. In a statement the Seattle Public Schools said that beginning Thursday all instruction and activities for its 53,000 students would be cancelled for at least two weeks. A district north of Seattle, the Northshore Public School District with 22,000 students, had already closed schools and is teaching students online.
The University of Washington announced Wednesday that fans will be barred from sporting events
San Francisco’s mayor on Wednesday banned for two weeks all gatherings of 1,000 or more people, including Golden State Warriors games. Santa Clara County in California, home to San Jose and Silicon Valley, on Monday announced a ban on all gatherings of 1,000 people or more.
Dow Constantine, King County executive, said at Wednesday's news conference that the county is imposing a prohibition on smaller events, with fewer than 250 people, unless they meet public health guidelines that include social distancing and screening. Those prohibitions wouldn't include grocery stores or family gatherings.
"Today’s actions will help relieve the strain on our hospital system,” Constantine said.
Seattle Mayor Jennny Durkan said: “We will get through it, it will be hard.”
Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health - Seattle & King County, said the region is facing a health emergency as the number of cases double every few days.
“We expect a large-scale outbreak in weeks and this will be a very difficult time,” he said. “It’s similar to what you might think of as an infectious disease equivalent of a major earthquake that’s going to shake us for weeks and weeks.”
Experts say models show there are likely at least 1,000 positive cases in the community. Duchin said social distancing and other measures can help reduce the spread.
For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover within a few weeks.
At least 10 long-term care facilities in the Seattle area have reported COVID-19 cases, with deaths at three of them — a worrying development as health officials have cautioned that the elderly and those with underlying conditions are especially at risk.
Inslee on Tuesday outlined a list of requirements for such centers aimed at stopping the worst coronavirus outbreak in the nation Nineteen of the state's COVID-19 deaths are tied to the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington.
Also Wednesday, Lake Washington School District, which includes Kirkland, the epicenter of the outbreak in Washington state, announced Wednesday that schools will close beginning Thursday and will run through March 27.
Ken Finlayson, a father who launched the petition to close Kirkland schools, said they plan to offer the district support as they move through the process.
"Obviously, we think that it is the right decision, he said.
La Corte reported from Olympia, Washington. Associated Press sportswriter Tim Booth contributed from Seattle.