(11:20 AM NOTE: Video now available for playback – you may have to advance a while to get to the start)
10:17 AM: Click “watch” (and then “play”) to see live video from the news conference Gov. Jay Inslee is having in downtown Seattle right now with county executives and mayors from the metro area “to announce new community strategies and social distancing plans to contain COVID-19.” We’ll publish as-it-happens notes below.
10:23 AM: Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan introduced the governor: “This will be hard … we’ll get through it.” Inslee thanks everyone for following guidelines on social distancing and cleanliness. “It is clear our state needs a more vigorous, comprehensive position” to stop COVID-19. “This is not your ordinary flu … this is a virus … at least 10 times more potentially fatal than the flu.” Starting today, he says, “certain events in King, Snohomish, Pierce Counties with more than 250 people are prohibited by order of the governor” – civic, recreational, faith-based, with more than 250 people. “This prohibition could be expanded in the days to come.” He says this will be an “effective tactic.” He says the “world scientific community” was consulted as well as “the experience of other communities.” The prohibition is in effect “through March” but “could be extended.”
10:32 AM: Inslee reiterates that he’s asking as many employers as possible to have workers telecommute. He’s also asking businesses to implement “social distancing … in a way that can … allow you to continue. This is key to success.” He’s asking public transit “to follow King County’s lead” in expanded cleaning measures. He also says you may need to talk with your health-care providers about delaying elective surgery.
About schools, he says: “The good news is that our children are relatively free of serious disease (with this) …” but can spread it. So he’s asking all schools “to begin contingency plans” for potential closures, including figuring out how to keep kids fed and cared for. “It is expected I will give more guidance in the next few days” and he will be talking to district superintendents in the three counties later today.
King County Executive Dow Constantine says Public Health will issue an order canceling SMALLER (than 250 people) events unless very specific health guidelines are followed. But he adds, “Business can and must continue … if they are able to meet these criteria.” If unstopped, the number can double “every 5 to 7 days,” he says. He thanks the business community for “finding ways … to make their workforce and the public safer.”
10:43 AM: Constantine makes way for Seattle-King County Public Health’s Dr. Jeff Duchin.”I want to fully acknowledge the disruption these actions will cause in people’s lives.” He adds, “We expect a large-scale outbreak in weeks” and says this is like “a major earthquake that will shake us for weeks and weeks.” He says the social-distancing measures will “delay the spread” of the illness and adds that while most who get sick will have only “mild illness,” this is vital because those at high-risk will be much sicker. “Minimizing the number of people who become ill” will lessen the strain on the health-care system. “This outbreak will go on for weeks and likely for months.”
He says his order (the “fewer than 250” one) is NOT intended to apply to “grocery or other retail establishments” or to “family events.” He urges everyone to look at new CDC recommendations on “community mitigation.”
Duchin introduces Pierce Co. Executive Bruce Dammeier, who in turn is followed by Snohomish Co. Executive Dave Somers. Dammeier makes a point of note for all – this will affect many nonprofits that have fundraisers this time of year; please keep supporting them.
10:55 AM: Governor returns to the microphone and reads a message from Italy saying people shouldn’t underestimate this. It’s not the flu, the person in Italy told him – “people can’t breathe.” Following him, Dr. Duchin shows a chart from an expert showing what could happen in terms of the outbreak growing if social distancing is NOT implemented.
11 AM: Now Q&A with reporters – Inslee says his order is legally binding but “we don’t expect enforcement to be (necessary)” because he expects people to want to save lives. (“You might be killing your granddad if you don’t do it.” But there are steps that could be taken if needed. He’s then asked for the rationale behind choosing 250 as a threshold. “What we did after long consideration … this was a level (at which you can control crowds, social distancing).” He also repeated that the federal government is expected to issue some similar guidelines.
Will he use the National Guard? “As necessary … to supplement, where we need logistical help … (and) potential medical assistance” if hospitals become overloaded.
Asked again about enforcement, Constantine says “we’re not going to have public-health police running around.”
Asked for details on his forthcoming order re: smaller-than-250 gatherings, Duchin says people at higher risk will be asked not to attend, that employees are to be screened for symptoms each day, that sanitizer (etc.) be readily available for attendees/customers. “We realize we can’t stop all people from getting together in the community, and we don’t want to, life goes on …” they’re just trying to reduce the risk.
He also says, “If you don’t NEED to be in a health-care setting, don’t go.” That would include visiting people, non-essential medical services, etc. … Meantime, Inslee stresses that he’s asking people to do everything possible. And he says for decisionmakers, “This is not easy work.” In response to another Q, he says they are trying to avoid having to shut down cities (etc.) as has happened in other nations.
11:12 AM: News conference is over. We will add any related links we get – we’ve already added the governor’s proclamation above – and note that the video IS available for playback (above and here).
–Governor’s summary here (including the chart mentioned above)
12:40 PM: As we’ve reported separately, Seattle Public Schools is closing for at least two weeks starting tomorrow.