OLYMPIA (AP) — As the death toll from the new coronavirus reached at least 31 in Washington state, Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday ordered that all public and private K-12 schools in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties be closed for six weeks.
Inslee’s directive affects about 600,000 students. The schools must close by March 17 and remain shuttered through April 24.
“We have reached a tipping point where the spread of this virus demands that we take action,” Inslee said at a news conference. “We do not expect this to slow down and it will not slow down unless we take action. Closing schools will slow the transmission of this virus.”
Several school districts already announced they will close due to the outbreak. Seattle Public Schools with 53,000 students, closed beginning Thursday.
Lake Washington School District, which includes Kirkland, the epicenter of the outbreak in Washington state, announced Wednesday that schools will close beginning Thursday. Bellevue Schools is doing the same, beginning Friday.
King County reported its 27th death from COVID-19 on Thursday. Snohomish county has three deaths and Grant County one.
The closures are limited to the three counties, but schools across the state should have plans for future closures, which Inslee said might come soon. The top priority is reducing the number of cases and deaths, he said.
For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover within a few weeks.
At least 10 long-term care facilities in the Seattle area have reported positive cases.
Inslee earlier banned gatherings and events of more than 250 people in three Western Washington counties covering hundreds of miles and millions of people. Oregon banned gatherings of more than 250 people statewide. 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.
Washington has more than 400 confirmed cases in at least 12 counties. Twenty-two 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.