Gov. Inslee bans large gatherings in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties

SEATTLE — Gov. Jay Inslee imposed a ban on public gatherings and events of more than 250 people in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties to curb the spread of the new coronavirus.

Inslees proclamation also requires “social distancing” at smaller gatherings in the three counties, which include the cities of Seattle, Tacoma and Everett, home to almost 4 million people. (Read the proclamation here.)

These include but are not limited to: community, civic, public, leisure, faith-based, or sporting events; parades; concerts; festivals; conventions; fundraisers and similar activities.

The state has at least 24 COVID-19 deaths and more than 260 confirmed cases.

The order applies to sporting events like Seattle Mariners baseball, Seattle Sounders soccer games, XFL Seattle Dragons games, and a pair of junior hockey teams in the area. The Sounders season is already under way, and opening day for the Mariners is March 26. The 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).

Restrictions don’t include Spokane, where NCAA Tournament games are scheduled to take place next week.

The ban will extend through at least the end of March, but Inslee said it is “very likely” to be extended beyond March.

“These are not easy decisions,” Inslee said. “It is clear that our state needs a more vigorous and more comprehensive and more aggressive position if we are going to slow the spread of this epidemic.”

King County is taking the ban a step further. Public Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin will sign an order prohibiting smaller social gatherings (less than 250 people) unless they meet certain guidelines for social distancing, sanitation and other measures.

“We’re facing an unprecedented health emergency,” Duchin said. “The number of cases doubles every several days. We expect a large-scale outbreak in weeks, and this will be a very difficult time. It’s similar to what you might think of … as an earthquake that’s going to shake us for weeks and weeks.”

The announcement comes on the heels of the World Health Organization’s declaration of a global pandemic for COVID-19. The WHO said the number of cases outside China has increased 13-fold, and the number of countries affected has tripled. There are more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries. The worldwide death toll was 4,291 as of Wednesday, March 11.

“I truly believe that this outbreak may be one of the most transformative and consequential events that we’ve had in this region and in this country,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said. “I also believe and know we will get through it. It will be hard. One thing that gives me great comfort is the leadership I’ve seen at every level of government.”

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. A nursing home in Issaquah and another in Seattle each reported the death of a resident on Tuesday, bringing the total COVID-19 deaths in the state to at least 24.

Nineteen of those deaths are tied to a Kirkland nursing home.

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.

Inslee said the state is preparing for many more cases than have been reported, potentially tens of thousands, based on estimates of the spread of the disease.