SPOKANE, Wash — Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward and other local leaders discussed the city's plan for responding to COVID-19, more commonly known as coronavirus, on Wednesday.
Woodward said there are no limitations on social gatherings within the city but she did urge community members to take "immediate steps" toward practicing social distancing.
This comes as Gov. Jay Inslee banned gatherings of 250 people or more in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties due to the coronavirus outbreak in Washington state. The ban will last at least through the end of March and could be extended.
This means avoiding unnecessary travel and gatherings, arranging for employees to work from home or staggered schedules to avoid overcrowding, and avoiding people with weakened immune systems, among other practices.
Event organizers are also urged to review their contingency plans for postponing and even canceling events of 250 people or more, Woodward said.
Woodward said the city has postponed employee and volunteer programs scheduled this week "out of an abundance of caution."
Some people have expressed concerns over how the Spokane Transit Authority will work to sanitize its buses. Woodward responded to this on Wednesday by saying STA is doing evening cleanings and sanitizing of all buses, and posting best practices in its buses.
Dr. Bob Lutz with the Spokane Regional Health District also addressed health officials' protocol for events amid Washington's coronavirus outbreak.
“There are no hard and fast rules about holding public events during a pandemic," he said.
SRHD is holding meetings regularly to determine if and when large events and public gatherings should be canceled, Lutz said. He added that health officials are analyzing events on a case-by-case basis.
However, the county health department did issue a legal directive to cancel the Washington Middle School Basketball Championship scheduled for March 13-15. Officials are working to reschedule the tournament in the coming months.
Other events, such as the Spokane Chiefs game at the Spokane Arena on Saturday, will not be canceled, Lutz said.
This comes as NCAA President Mark Emmert announced on Wednesday that both the men's and women's NCAA Tournaments will be played without fans amid coronavirus concerns.
Beginning Monday, March 23, Washington State University will also refrain from holding in-person classes.
Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs said council will be ready to provide whatever financial resources are needed to respond to COVID-19.
Woodward added that city leaders expect that coronavirus will affect Spokane's economy but the amount remains to be seen.
No confirmed cases in Spokane County, risk remains 'low'
Woodward confirmed that there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Spokane County, but she and Lutz both said they expect that there eventually will be.
“It is here. We just don’t necessarily have documentation that it is," Lutz said.
Lutz said the risk of COVID-19 in Spokane County remains "low." He added that the health district will no longer be informed of every test but will receive information about positive tests.
He did not have any information on the status of test results for two patients who are being tested in Spokane County.
Woodward said the city could issue an emergency declaration if the situation worsens in Spokane.
“This is a developing situation. We expect additional information and updates over the coming days," she said.