When we asked you to submit questions for three Seattle-area leaders about the COVID-19 pandemic, you responded in droves.

In less than 24 hours, Seattle Times readers submitted more than 400 questions for our video interview Thursday with our three panelists:

  • Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, who has been overseeing the city’s response to the crisis.
  • Hilary Godwin, the dean of the University of Washington’s School of Public Health.
  • Seth Cohen, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine who specializes in infectious diseases.

Many readers asked why Seattle and Washington state have yet to adopt, like some other jurisdictions have, a “shelter in place” order directing people to stay home except for essential needs.

“People are using inconsistent nomenclature,” Durkan argued. She pointed to Gov. Jay Inslee’s ban on gatherings of more than 50 people and on smaller gatherings that don’t observe distancing guidelines. “We have done almost the exact equivalent of those cities.”

Godwin explained that COVID-19, the illness caused by the new type of coronavirus known officially as SARS-C0V-2, is different from a regular flu because “it is new, which means members of our community haven’t been exposed to it before” and because “there’s also a higher case fatality rate.”

Washington state labs are “still in the process of ramping up” testing capacity, she said. At the same time, she asserted, not everyone needs to be tested right away: “The most important people to get tested are those that are experiencing moderate to severe symptoms,” she added.

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Many Times readers asked questions about how the virus can spread, wondering whether to worry about eating takeout, taking a walk with a friend or watching a grandchild play at the park.

Cohen said the virus mostly seems to spread “between people who have close contact” through tiny droplets that “can travel when you sneeze or cough.” Six feet is the “magic number” for the distance people should stay apart, he said.

“As long as you’re washing your hands, it’s OK to support our local businesses and get takeout once in a while,” he said. “We want you to get outside. We want you to stay active. But we want you to stay away from people — at least six feet away.”

Asked about people experiencing homelessness, Durkan said the city and county have been working to create more shelter beds and allow for extra room between people.

More on the COVID-19 pandemic

She also said Seattle’s Navigation Team two weeks ago shifted from providing notice ahead of certain encampment removals to providing information and hygiene kits. In response to a follow-up question, the mayor acknowledged that the city continued some removals of encampments classified as “obstructions.” On Tuesday, the city announced those removals would happen only under extreme circumstances.

The panelists also discussed questions about COVID-19 testing and treatment possibilities, hospital-worker protective equipment, how long the crisis might last and what symptoms to watch for. The Seattle area is still “at the very beginning” of the growth curve, Godwin said. Body aches could be a sign, particularly when they show up with fever and coughing, Cohen said.

Watch all or part of the 35-minute video above for more.

Seattle Times staff reporter Sydney Brownstone contributed to this story.

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