Public Health Essentials

A place to highlight the work of local public health as well as share health-related information and tips. Have an idea or question? Drop us a line at

View All Posts

Mar 12

COVID-19 and Gatherings: March 11, 2020

Posted on March 12, 2020 at 7:58 AM by Kari Bray

*Updated 8 a.m. 3/12/20. See underlined portion of second bullet point below.

New rules are in place to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in our community. 

We are not at the peak of this outbreak. That is why early, comprehensive and sustained social distancing is critical. We know that this will have impacts on the people of Snohomish County, but we urge you to respect these essential measures. They have been carefully considered with the goal of keeping people safe and healthy.

Dr. Chris Spitters, interim health officer for the Snohomish Health District, issued an order on March 11 that all events with more than 250 people are prohibited in Snohomish County. Governor Jay Inslee also announced that gatherings of 250 people or more are being prohibited in Snohomish, King and Pierce counties at least through the end of March. 

Under the order, events with fewer than 250 attendees also are prohibited unless organizers take steps to minimize risk. Those steps include:
  • Older adults or people with underlying conditions are encouraged not to attend.
  • Social distancing recommendations are in place. People should avoid being within 6 feet of each other for longer than momentary or minimal contact.
  • Employees are screened for coronavirus symptoms each day and excluded if symptomatic.
  • Proper hand hygiene and sanitation must be readily available to all attendees and employees.
  • Environmental cleaning guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are followed, including more cleaning and disinfecting of high-touch surfaces at least daily.
Events that are subject to this order include gatherings for business, social, spiritual, or recreational activities. This does include community, civic, public, faith-based, or sporting events, parades, concerts, festivals, conventions, and fundraisers. It does not include normal school, health care facilities, or other public safety and critical infrastructure operations.

For non-essential smaller events, this is a good time to consider canceling or postponing.

In any event or group situation, the larger the group, the higher the risk. The closer the contact to others, the higher the risk.

We want to make our schools, businesses and families aware that we expect extended school closures to be required very soon.

Extended closures create major challenges for students and families who are experiencing homelessness or unstable housing as well as parents who cannot work from home, do not have alternate child care readily available, and cannot afford to stay home from work without jeopardizing income they need to house and feed their family. 

We also need to ensure staffing of medical providers, first responders, and others who are essential to this response and other critical day-to-day work. Many of those staff would be directly impacted by school closures and the need to stay home with kids could reduce resources at a crucial time.

To accommodate that critical planning, we are asking families and businesses to prepare now. Announcements are forthcoming, and people should prepare for schools to close for several weeks or longer.

Again, additional measures are likely to be put into place in the coming days. Please continue to monitor communications from your local school district as well as from the Snohomish Health District.

High-risk Groups
We also want to remind people that those who are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 should take extra precautions. These include avoiding busy venues or groups gatherings, even those that are not subject to the new order.

People who are at higher risk of severe complications from this illness include those who:
  • are over 60 years of age
  • have an underlying medical condition, like heart disease, lung disease or diabetes. 
  • have weakened immune systems
  • or are pregnant.
If you have questions about whether you or your child is at higher risk from COVID-19, ask your health care provider.

Social Distancing
The measures that are being put into place fall into the broad category of social distancing. This is a common strategy for reducing the spread of disease. The closer the contact between people – and the more people in a group – the greater the risk of passing along viruses. 

Try to keep at least 3 to 6 feet away from others. Avoid handshakes and hugs – use smiles and “hellos” instead. If you want some kind of physical contact, go for fist or shoulder/elbow bumps.  

Stay home when you have a serious condition such as diabetes, heart disease or lung disease or have a cough, fever, and/or difficulty breathing. People older than 60 are especially vulnerable to the COVID 19 virus. Consider having groceries and supplies delivered.

Health Care Access and Insurance
The response to COVID-19 is demanding a tremendous amount from our health care system. Health care providers may ask patients to postpone non-urgent visits or procedures. They may also be providing tele-health options (consultations by phone or online). If you are unable to get an appointment with your regular provider, check other local health care systems for available tele-health options.

In response to the growing concern about COVID-19, the Washington Health Benefit Exchange on March 10 announced a limited-time special enrollment period for qualified people who are currently without insurance. The special enrollment period continues through April 8. Those who are looking to enroll in health insurance should call the customer support center for the health benefit exchange between 7:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. That number is 1-855-923-4633.

Crisis Support 
We also know that this is a stressful time for many people, and that every new case has impacts that ripple through families and communities. 

The Volunteers of America Western Washington offers crisis care support for those who are experiencing mental and emotional distress related to this outbreak. This may include family members who are separated from loved ones at long-term care facilities where visitation is being limited to prevent the spread of illness to a vulnerable population. 

Please note that this crisis line is not the proper venue for questions about COVID-19 or the public health or health care response. The crisis line is staffed by mental health professionals, but they do not have information about patients, testing, event cancellations, or other details of the COVID-19 response.

The contact information for the crisis line for residents of Snohomish, Skagit, San Juan, Island or Whatcom counties is: 800-584-3578 by phone or for text or chat.

Donating Blood
Blood supplies are running low because of worry over COVID-19. As with any other situation, people who are ill should stay home and should not go to donate blood. However, people who are well may certainly do so. You can’t catch COVID-19 from donating blood. In fact, as supplies become critically low, we encourage you to donate blood.