Gov. Inslee on Wednesday ordered that events with more than 250 people — including sporting events, conventions, concerts and more — are prohibited in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties throughout March and possibly beyond.
“This is not a time to be going out into public in close contact,” Inslee said. “It’s just too dangerous.”
People need to stop saying this virus is just like the flu or not a big deal, Inslee said. By mid-May, he said, Washington could have 60,000 infected residents.
The order doesn’t shut down airports or transportation systems, Inslee said. But it does affect large social gatherings of more than 250 people, such as weddings, he said.
“You might be killing your granddad if you don’t do it,” he said. “I’m serious.”
Asked why 250 was chosen as the limit, Inslee said that while there’s no “magic number,” he followed the recommendations of scientists and the federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) that gatherings of 250 or fewer can be managed easier.
People who can work from home should, he said, noting that many companies have already recommended their workers do so.
These measures will be “profoundly disturbing to a lot of the ways we live our lives today,” but are necessary, he said. “We’re going to have to change our lives in ways that are uncomfortable to save our community.”
While children tend to be at lower risk from COVID-19, they can transmit the virus, and “we are giving intense thought” to how to protect children, Inslee said. He asked school administrators to “immediately begin contingency planning for potential school closures in the next several days.” More guidance on schools is expected to come in the next few days.
In addition, King County will be restricting some events with fewer than 250 people if they don’t meet certain public health guidelines, county executive Dow Constantine announced.
Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County, said those requirements will include that people at particular risk — people 60 or older and people with underlying health conditions — don’t attend, that people don’t get within six feet of each other if at all possible, that proper hand hygiene and sanitation are available to all attendees, and that CDC cleaning guidelines are followed in the event space.
That order doesn’t affect retail or family gatherings, he said. The county will provide guidance for places like restaurants and grocery stores, he said, and enforcement will be “by complaint.”
But “business must and should continue,” Constantine said.
Duchin called this an “unprecedented” public health emergency. “The number of cases doubles every several days” and clusters have emerged in nursing homes, where people are particularly at risk.
Duchin said this is “the infectious disease equivalent of a major earthquake,” wherein the aftermath lasts weeks or months. But “life has to go on.”