King County officials are recommending, though not mandating, that people at a higher risk of developing serious symptoms from COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, stay home and avoid large groups.

Patty Hayes, director for Public Health — Seattle & King County, said these recommendations are particularly aimed at people over 60 and those with underlying health conditions. Officials hope the measures will slow the spread of the virus in the county, which had seen 31 cases including nine deaths as of Wednesday afternoon.

“The distancing measures that we’re recommending are essential because we need to slow the spread of disease to the point where our healthcare system can continue to be able to handle the load,” Hayes said.

Officials are advising community groups against holding large gatherings, defined as having more than 10 people, and are encouraging companies to allow remote work. King County Executive Dow Constantine said the county canceled all non-essential large group meetings through the end of March, and employees are encouraged to work remotely if they can.

Public Health officials are not recommending school closures at this time unless there is a confirmed case, because children have not been shown to be a high-risk group, unless they have compromised immune systems.

In Centralia, Lewis County, Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday said he would use his legal authority to cancel large events if medical evidence shows such actions can prevent or slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“If we reach the point where the medical evidence … suggests that this is necessary to incur whatever disruption would be required, we’ll make that decision,” Inslee said.

The governor said he would make any such decision “in consultation with the scientists, the medical profession,” and “with the communities that will be involved.”

“It’s a weighty decision, but I will not be afraid to make that decision if it becomes the right thing for the state of Washington,” Inslee added.

The governor’s remarks came as he toured a site that is planned to hold people in isolation or quarantine as part of the state’s response to the coronavirus.

Located on the grounds of the former Maple Lane youth detention center, the fenced-in site contains eight rented RVs that will be used for both quarantine and isolation.

Quarantines are for people who haven’t shown symptoms but who have been exposed to the disease and could be at risk, said Nathan Weed of the state Department of Health. Isolation is for people who are ill and are showing symptoms.

“What’s interesting, of course, about this particular virus is that some of the illnesses are not severe enough that someone needs to be in the hospital,” Weed said. “But they do need to be separated from other people.”

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