Inslee announces statewide school closures, ban on large gatherings amid coronavirus outbreak

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Gov. Jay Inslee on Friday ordered statewide school closures for six weeks amid the COVID-19 outbreak. 

The order applies to all K-12 schools, both public and private. The order will also close colleges and technical schools as well, but they will continue online learning, Inslee said.

There are 568 cases of COVID-19 and 37 deaths as of Friday afternoon, according to the state Department of Health. The virus has been confirmed in 15 counties.

The expanded closures come a day after Inslee ordered schools closed in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties.

Statewide closures will take effect March 17 and last through April 24.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal said although there are regions without confirmed cases, absentee rates are high and the decrease in available substitute teachers and bus drivers is causing disruptions in districts across the state.

"We support the governor and encourage statewide consistency," he said. "This gives us ability to act as one K-12 unit."

Reykdal said there are essential needs that school districts provide when open -- nutrition and child care -- both of which will continue at a district-level while the closures are in place.

Each district will have child care options available at schools, but social distancing measures will be in place.

School employees will still be going to work, he said.

Inslee also expanded a ban on events larger than 250 people to the entire state, including sporting events, concerts, church services, fundraisers and more.

As of Friday, more than 6,500 people have been tested in Washington. Roughly 6,000 tests were negative. Dr. Kathy Lofy, state health officer, told The Associated Press that even with thousands of tests being done, it’s not enough.

“We should be doing more testing in Washington,” Lofy said. “We’re doing everything we can to increase testing capacity.”

While more test kits are becoming available for the labs, she said they’re starting to run short on some of the materials to take the samples from people, including the swabs and the liquid the swabs go in.

The age group with the largest number of positive tests was people over the age of 80. The smallest age group, 2%, was children under the age of 19. Pierce County reported a boy under 10 and another just over 10 were positive for the virus.

Testing is available through four labs in Washington state and the turn-around time was 24 to 48 hours, officials said. The public health lab had the capacity to test 300 people per day. The University of Washington could handle 2,200 tests a day with a 24-hour turn-around.

Two private companies, LabCorp and Quest, were also conducting test. Quest could do about 1,250 per day while LabCorp could handle several hundred and were working to expand their capacity to thousands per day.

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.