Governor bans large gatherings in greater Seattle area

SEATTLE (AP) — In an effort to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday imposed a ban on 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.”

Washington has at least 25 COVID-19 deaths and more than 260 confirmed cases. Nineteen 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. By Wednesday, King County had 190 confirmed cases, Snohomish reported 60 and Pierce had 14 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.

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.

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.

Under Inslee’s new rules, residents at these facilities will be limited to one visitor a day and they must host them in their rooms. All visitors must sign in and follow precautionary measures like social distancing, and employees must be screened for symptoms at the start of each shift, he said.

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La Corte reported from Olympia, Washington. Associated Press sportswriter Tim Booth contributed from Seattle.

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