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caption: Gov. Jay Inslee announces a ban on large events and gatherings of more than 250 people in King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties on Wednesday, March 11, 2020.
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Gov. Jay Inslee announces a ban on large events and gatherings of more than 250 people in King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties on Wednesday, March 11, 2020.
Credit: King County TV

Large events banned in Seattle area amid efforts to slow COVID-19 spread

Events and large gatherings of more than 250 people are banned in King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties, Gov. Jay Inslee announced during a Wednesday morning press conference.

The order is the most drastic effort yet by state officials to curb the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus.

"This is a virus that the experts tell us [is] at least 10 times more potentially fatal than the flu," Inslee said. "And this demands a response consistent with the nature of the threat."

There are currently 366 confirmed cases of the disease in Washington state and 29 have died as of Wednesday afternoon, according to the state department of health. The coronavirus outbreak has reached the level of a global pandemic, the World Health Organization proclaimed on Wednesday.

"The three counties impacted have been chosen because they are experiencing significant community transmission, significant outbreaks in their large population centers," Inslee said.

"This prohibition could be expanded in the days to come. Depending on the development of the virus, these counties could be removed at a future order as well," he continued.

The order prohibits large gatherings for social, spiritual, or recreational purposes. That includes concerts, sporting events, weddings, fundraisers, conventions, and other similar events exceeding 250 attendees. The ban doesn't apply to grocery stores, airports, casinos, or restaurants.

"These are not easy decisions, the decisions that we're making today," Inslee said. "And the decisions we probably will be making in the upcoming days are going to be profoundly disturbing to a lot of the ways we live our lives today."

The ban will remain in effect throughout March. While it's not clear exactly how long it could last, Inslee said it was "very highly likely" that it will extend past this month.

King County health officer Jeff Duchin said officials are expecting "a large-scale outbreak in weeks."

"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," Duchin said.

Inslee cited projections showing that upwards of 25,000 Washingtonians could be affected by COVID-19 by the first week of April. Perhaps 60,000 could be infected by mid-May, he said, if a trend of the number of cases doubling each week continues.

Inslee said that he didn't expect the order would need to be officially enforced, and that officials are counting on residents to exercise good judgment and social responsibility.

"The penalties are, you might be killing your granddad if you don't do it — I'm serious about this," he said.

King County Executive Dow Constantine said county health officials would also be issuing a ban on events of 250 people or less, "unless they meet public health guidelines to ensure social distancing, adequate sanitation, regular health checks of employees, and other measures designed to prevent the virus from being transmitted."

Inslee also addressed concerns surrounding the potential need for school closures during the COVID-19 outbreak. He pointed to the lack of effect the disease seems to be having on children, but said that "the best science tells us they still have the capability of transmitting the disease to other people they come in contact with."

"In that regard, I'm asking all of our school districts to immediately begin contingency planning for potential school closures," Inslee said.

Seattle, Bellevue, and Shoreline school districts each announced districtwide closures lasting approximately two weeks following the press conference.

READ: All Seattle Public Schools closed for at least two weeks starting Thursday due to coronavirus outbreak

Inslee said he intends to provide more guidance to school leaders in the coming days, and that he'd be meeting with district superintendents in the three counties impacted by the large gathering ban.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released a set of COVID-19 mitigation recommendations for King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties in tandem with Gov. Inslee's order.