New Public Health Recommendations to Slow the Spread of Coronavirus

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Public Health – Seattle & King County is taking proactive steps to protect the health of our community by making recommendations that are meant to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in our community and reduce the number of people infected.

We understand these actions will have a tremendous impact on the lives of people in our community. Public Health is making these recommendations in consultation with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) based on the best information we have to protect the public’s health. This is a critical moment in the growing outbreak of COVID-19 in King County when such measures can potentially impact the spread of the disease.


Public Health is recommending, but not requiring, the following steps. We’re recommending these proactive steps through March to slow the spread of novel coronavirus. We will continue to evaluate the situation day-by-day and keep everyone up to date about any changes to these recommendations.

Guidance for people at higher risk for severe COVID-19 illness

Public Health recommends that people at higher risk of severe illness should stay home and away from large groups of people as much as possible. This includes public places with lots of people and large gatherings where there will be close contact with others. This includes concert venues, conventions, sporting events, and crowded social gatherings.

People at higher risk include people:

  • Over 60 years of age
  • With underlying health conditions including include heart disease, lung disease, or diabetes
  • With weakened immune systems
  • Who are pregnant

Caregivers of children with underlying health conditions should consult with healthcare providers about whether their children should stay home. Anyone who has questions about whether their condition puts them at risk for novel coronavirus should consult with their healthcare providers.

Reducing close contact at workplaces and businesses

Reducing the amount of face-to-face contact people have can help reduce the spread of infectious disease. This is also known as “social distancing.” Taking these measures in the workplace can help reduce the number of workers who come into contact with coronavirus and thereby help minimize absenteeism due to illness.

We are recommending that workplaces take steps that allow people to work from home. Of course, many people are in jobs where they must be in the workplace; they should continue to go to work whenever possible. But if more people work from home, that reduces the number of people in a “congregate” work setting—that is, one where there are many people in close contact with one another. Reducing the number of workers in one location will reduce the opportunity for coronavirus to spread and reduce absenteeism due to illness.

For that reason, Public Health recommends that:

Employers should take steps to make it more feasible for their employees to work in ways that minimize close contact with large numbers of people.

Employers should:

  • Maximize telecommuting options for as many employees as possible.
  • Urge employees to stay home when they are sick.
  • Maximize flexibility in sick leave benefits for those who are ill or who are recommended to stay home because they are high risk.
  • Consider staggering start and end times to reduce large numbers of people coming together at the same time.

Event and community gathering considerations

During this critical period in the outbreak, if you can feasibly avoid bringing large groups of people together, consider postponing events and gatherings.

If you can’t avoid bringing groups of people together:

  • Urge anyone who is sick to not attend.
  • Encourage those who are at higher risk for coronavirus to not attend.
  • Try to find ways to give people more physical space so that they aren’t in close contact as much as possible.
  • Encourage attendees to maintain good healthy habits, such as frequent hand washing.
  • Clean surfaces frequently. Standard cleaning products are effective against COVID-19.

Current school recommendation 

Schools are large, public settings with plenty of social interaction and everyone is concerned about how children will be affected. Health officials from Public Health – Seattle & King County and the CDC weighed recommendations for schools very carefully. The available data about COVID-19 cases has shown that children and youth have not been high risk groups for serious illness from this virus.

We know that schools are doing the important work of educating our children. We don’t want to disrupt that unless there are known coronavirus exposure risks. We also know that school closures have other impacts on working parents. School closures can be disruptive and costly for families. We consider both the potential benefits and negative consequences of closures when we make recommendations.

For these reasons, Public Health is not recommending closing schools at this time. If there is a confirmed case of COVID-19, Public Health will work with the school and the district to determine the best measures including potential school closure. As much as possible, children should be allowed to carry on with their education and normal activities.

Public Health–Seattle & King County also respects each individual school’s decisions about closures, postponement of activities, or other social distancing measures – as each school knows the needs of their community best.

Some children have underlying health conditions, such as weakened immune systems, that put them at higher risk. Caregivers of children with underlying health conditions should consult with healthcare providers about whether their children should stay home.

What everyone can do to help keep our community strong

This is a challenging time for our region and our community. We detected the first cases here, and we are among the first to roll out these strategies to try to reduce the spread. It’s crucial that we stand ready to support one another, show compassion, and find ways that we can all help to reduce the impacts to our community.

You can decrease the risk to yourself, and importantly, to those who are more vulnerable to coronavirus:

  • Stay home when you are sick. Do not go out in public when you are sick.
  • Avoid medical settings in general unless necessary. Healthcare facilities are at capacity. If you are ill in any way call your doctor’s office first before going in.
  • Even if you are not ill, avoid visiting hospitals, long term care facilities or nursing homes to the extent possible. If you do need to visit one of these facilities limit your time there and keep 6 feet away from patients.
  • Do not go to the emergency room unless essential. Emergency rooms need to be able to serve those with the most critical needs. If you have symptoms like cough, fever, or other respiratory problems, contact your regular doctor first.
  • Practice excellent personal hygiene habits, including washing your hands with soap and water frequently, coughing into a tissue or your elbow, and avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Stay away from people who are ill, especially if you are at higher risk for coronavirus.
  • Clean frequently touched surfaces and objects (like doorknobs and light switches). Regular household cleaners are effective.
  • Get plenty of rest, drink plenty of fluids, eat healthy foods, and manage your stress to keep your immunity strong

Be ready to help one another. Talk to your neighbors, friends, and families about how you can help run errands, do grocery drops, or otherwise support people who need to stay home.

At stressful times, fear and anxiety can be result in harm to people who are stigmatized because they are thought to be infected. Coronavirus does not discriminate, and neither should we. Please share information to prevent and address stigmatization. Show compassion and support for those who are ill or who must stay home. A strong sense of community will carry us through a difficult time.

Stay informed. Information is changing frequently. Check and subscribe to Public Health’s website ( or blog (

Originally posted on March 5, 2020

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I am a risk communications specialist at Public Health - Seattle & King County.