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Gov. Inslee announces ban on large events in trio of Washington counties

Gov. Jay Inslee announced a ban Wednesday on large gatherings and events of 250 people or more in King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties for the rest of March.

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The ban will apply to social, recreational, spiritual, and other community gatherings. That includes parades, concerts, conventions, sporting events, fundraisers, and festivals across those three counties. Gov. Inslee also noted that it is “very highly likely it will be extended” past the end of the month.

“It is clear that our needs call for a more vigorous, comprehensive, aggressive position if we are going to slow the spread of this epidemic,” he stated.

The ban does not apply to airports, other transportation systems like ferries, or restaurants, while state health officials are in discussions with tribal jurisdictions over how to handle casinos.

Inslee went on to encourage schools across the region to have contingency plans in place to prepare the possibility of further closures, while urging employers to maximize telecommuting opportunities for workers.

“Our children are relatively free of serious disease associated with this,” Inslee said. “But the best science tells us they have the capability of transmitting the disease with people they come into contact with.”

Executive Dow Constantine also said that smaller events under 250 will also be prohibited in King County unless they meet specific, stringent health guidelines. That ban will not include grocery stores, retail establishments, restaurants, or family events.

Those requirements include events and venues “actively encouraging” older adults or those with underlying conditions not to attend, ensuring social distancing recommendations are met, screening employees each day for coronavirus symptoms, and following CDC cleaning and sanitization guidelines.

“You can think of it as a large scale earthquake that will shake us for weeks and weeks,” said Seattle-King County Public Health’s Jeff Duchin.

As for how it will be enforced, Gov. Inslee was blunt about the consequences.

“The penalty might be killing your granddad, and I’m serious,” he noted.

Beyond that, health officials are hoping for venues and events to act on “good sense and in good faith.”

Inslee had been hinting at this for the past week as a possible preemptive move to curb the spread of coronavirus. Over the weekend, he stated that his office was considering enacting “mandatory measures” in the days ahead.

Monday night on MSBNC, the Washington governor spoke to Rachel Maddow, admitting that soon, the state was “going to have to make some hard decisions.”

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He further elaborated on that point during a Tuesday press conference, when he cited the need to “look forward ahead of the curve in Washington state.”

“We need to look at what is coming, not just what is here today,” he detailed, estimating that given limits on testing capacity, experts have told him there could be at least 1,000 untested coronavirus cases across the state.

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