Gov. Jay Inslee announced new community strategies and social distancing plans Wednesday at a news conference in Seattle to minimize COVID-19 exposure, particularly in counties hit hardest by the virus.
Starting Wednesday, events that take place in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties with more than 250 people are prohibited by the state. This order applies to gatherings for social, spiritual and recreational activities. These include but are not limited to: community, civic, public, leisure, faith-based, or sporting events; parades; concerts; festivals; conventions; fundraisers and similar activities.
“This is an unprecedented public health situation and we can’t wait until we’re in the middle of it to slow it down,” Inslee said. “We’ve got to get ahead of the curve. One main defense is to reduce the interaction of people in our lives.”
County executives and mayors from impacted communities, including Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers, joined the governor for the announcement.
“We recognize this new limitation will impact thousands of people, their plans, and their investments in these events,” Inslee said. “However, this is one of the most prudent choices we can make to keep people safe in this rapidly evolving health crisis. We want to do all we can to protect Washingtonians.”
So far, the virus has hit King County the hardest, with 24 deaths and 267 people with confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday morning. Snohomish County has reported 60 confirmed cases and one death, according to Snohomish Health District statistics updated March 10:
The governor also strongly encouraged state residents to practice social distancing, which means individuals should try to stay six feet or at least an arm’s length from each other.
In recent days, Inslee has encouraged older and vulnerable individuals not to attend large events. The governor is also asking for workplaces to look into telework options for employees, for people to sanitize and clean surfaces as they use them, and for people to bump elbows as a greeting instead of shaking hands.
Today’s announcement follows weeks of agencies and medical providers working long hours to get emergency communications and strategies to the public after the virus began to spread in Washington.
“We support the governor’s actions to slow the spread of this virus so the health care system has time to respond,” said Cassie Sauer, president of the Washington Hospital Association.
In addition to the mandatory social distancing strategy, Inslee also made strong recommendations such as:
- Ask high-risk populations to avoid social and recreational contact with others, including attendance at large events.
- Implement changes to the workplace such as maximizing telecommuting options for as many employees as possible, and implementing social distancing in the workplace within reason.
- Make considerations for public transit such as additional cleaning and sanitizing.
The governor is currently not planning to call for widespread school closures. However, he is asking school districts to make contingency plans around how they could provide services to families in need if schools closed for several weeks. Potential issues to address include free and reduced-price breakfast and lunch, students completing school work at home, and child care options.
“Washingtonians have stepped up in a big way and come together to face this public health crisis,” Inslee said. “I know these community strategies and distancing plans might pose challenges, but they are necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19.”