Infectious Disease, Public Health

King County orders additional restrictions to combat COVID-19

Coronavirus. Image: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)

New limits on large gatherings, other emergency strategies to slow the spread of COVID-19

Keith Seinfeld, Public Health – Seattle & King County

In addition to Governor Jay Inslee’s Proclamation that prohibits large gatherings of more than 250 people, Public Health—Seattle & King County is also issuing a Health Officer order to minimize the health impacts of COVID-19.

Under an order from Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin, Public Health prohibits large gatherings of more than 250 people.

In addition, the local order is prohibiting events of less than 250 people, unless measures are taken by event organizers to minimize risk.

Further guidance for schools will be issued later today, to support them as they prepare for the increasing possibility of prolonged mandatory closures. 

Both the Governor’s proclamation and the Public Health order were issued March 11, 2020, effective immediately.

Why now?

These actions are the most available and effective tools to help slow the spread of the virus in our community – and, importantly, to reduce the number of potential deaths caused by COVID-19. 

By slowing the spread, we have a chance to protect those family, friends and neighbors who are at risk for severe illness. In particular, this includes all adults over age 60, and anyone with an underlying health condition. 

These actions will limit the cascading impacts on critical services due to high absenteeism, if large numbers of workers become ill. The actions help hospitals and other healthcare services continue to provide services for those who need them (along with utilities, human services and businesses) in the coming weeks and months.

Large events and gatherings

Under the Health Officer’s order in King County: 

  • Events with more than 250 attendees are prohibited. 
  • Public events with fewer than 250 attendees are prohibited, unless event organizers can take steps to minimize risk. Event organizers must ensure that:
    • Older and vulnerable individuals have been encouraged not to attend
    • Recommendations for social distancing and limiting close contact are met
    • Employees or volunteers leading an event are screened for symptoms each day
    • Proper hand washing, sanitation, and cleaning is readily available 
    • Environmental cleaning guidelines are followed (e.g., clean and disinfect high touch surfaces daily or more frequently)

Additional guidance will be forthcoming shortly for how private events with fewer than 250 attendees can comply with this order, as well as for retail and services. 

For the purposes of the Order, an “event” is a gathering for business, social, or recreational activities including, but not limited to, community, civic, public, leisure, or sporting events; parades; concerts; festivals; conventions; fundraisers; and similar activities.  

Who enforces?

Our initial community mitigation strategies have been well-accepted, and we believe these new actions will be accepted in the same way to protect our community’s health. We don’t believe active enforcement will be necessary.

For the King County Order, violating a Local Health Officer Order is a misdemeanor. Our focus will be on helping people understand the importance of avoiding gatherings of people, rather than citations. 

We will not be actively searching for violations, but if we receive reports of events contrary to the order, we will reach out to the organizer to educate and provide guidance.


At this point, we are not recommending closing schools, but we are watching the outbreak closely and may determine that school closures are necessary. Schools should take steps now to prepare for the possibility of prolonged mandatory closures.  

In particular, schools should plan for how to continue to provide non-educational supports for their students such as providing food, developmental disability supports, and school-based healthcare.

Detailed guidance for schools will be published shortly, and a link will be added at that time. 

Collective action can save lives

We all have people in our lives who are high-risk. We all are one mishap away from needing access to a functioning hospital. We all have a lot at stake. 

Giving up social events will not be easy, and the impacts on businesses and jobs may be significant. But this is our best chance to save lives. It is in support of the most vulnerable in our community, and a protection for everyone. 

The more united we can be in preventing the spread – be in this together – the greater the benefit for the whole community. 

Additional resources

Governor’s Proclamation