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Large gatherings banned in San Francisco and Seattle area to slow the coronavirus outbreak

Washington State Governor Jay Inslee (C) addresses the press during a visit by Vice President Mike Pence to discuss concerns over the coronavirus.

Karen Ducey | Getty Images

Public officials banned large gatherings in San Francisco and the Seattle area on Wednesday to try to contain the rapidly spreading coronavirus that’s infected more than 121,000 people across the world since December.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said he’s banning gatherings of more than 250 people in several counties across the state to try to contain the COVID-19 outbreak that that has killed at least 23 residents. Inslee’s order applies to King County where Seattle is located as well as nearby Snohomish and Pierce counties.

“The number of cases doubles every several days and we’ve had multiple instances of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities where vulnerable persons reside. We expect a large-scale outbreak in weeks and this will be a very difficult time,” King County health officer Dr. Jeff Duchin said at a press conference with Inslee.

Moments after Inslee’s announcement, San Francisco health officials announced they were prohibiting public and private events of 1,000 or more to slow the spread of the new coronavirus there.

“We know that this order is disruptive, but it is an important step to support public health,” San Francisco Mayor London Breed said in a statement. “We know cancelling these events is a challenge for everyone and we’ve been talking with venues and event organizers about the need to protect public health.” She said she spoke with the Warriors NBA team and “they are in support of our efforts.”

Washington state is the hardest-hit state in the U.S. There are more than 267 confirmed cases across the state with 258 of those concentrated between the three counties, according to the state health commission. Inslee declared a state of emergency last month to free up funding for communities combating the outbreak.

“This is an extremely dangerous event that we are facing, but we are not helpless,” Inslee said. “All it requires is the will of active people to follow science and confidence that we’re all in this together.”

The ban in Washington, which lasts through the rest of March, could be expanded to other counties and will likely be extended beyond March, he said. He said he hopes to set an example for the rest of the country. 

“We hope that the things we’re doing aggressively here can set a template for the rest of the country,” he said. 

Seattle-area officials announced Tuesday that COVID-19 has infected residents or employees of 10 long-term care facilities. So far, at least 19 of the deaths in the U.S. are tied to one such facility: The Life Care residential home in Kirkland, Washington.

This is breaking news. Check back here for updates.

Clarification: Washington state’s order currently applies to three counties, not the entire state.