(CN) – Federal and state officials took unprecedented measures on Thursday to control the coronavirus outbreak that has grown to more than 1,300 cases across 44 states.
Congress will close the U.S. Capitol to the public by the end of the day. Schools closed across the country and some universities sent students home just before spring break. States such as Florida began restricting visitors’ access to nursing homes.
Some federal agencies, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission, will force employees to work from home. The governor of Oregon prohibited gatherings of more than 250 people statewide, while Washington state's governor has instituted a similar ban in three counties hit hardest by the virus. In California, the governor said gatherings of that size should be called off in the Golden State as well, though he did not outright ban them.
In Ohio, Governor Mike DeWine took a stricter approach and banned gatherings of more than 100 people. He also announced that all K-12 schools will be on extended spring break starting at the end of day Monday. The break will continue until April 3.
The ban applies to sporting events, parades and other mass gatherings, but does not include workplaces, retail venues, restaurants, libraries or places of worship. DeWine said he will also halt visits to Ohio nursing homes and psychiatric facilities. The state currently has five confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 52 patients under investigation.
At a Thursday press conference in Portland, Oregon, Governor Kate Brown said the state was shifting from a strategy of containment of the state’s 19 confirmed cases to one of “preventing the worst impacts of a mass outbreak from coming to pass.”
Health officials said delayed testing means the number infected in Oregon is probably closer to 200. And modeling shows the state could have 7,500 cases by mid-May.
Brown called on the federal government to send more test kits.
“We are concerned, frankly, about our testing capacity,” Brown said. “However, the federal government is the only one who can expand our testing and we are calling on them to help us do that.”
The ban on gatherings of over 250 people includes private events like weddings. But big outdoor gatherings, like Portland’s iconic Saturday Market, might be exempt – depending on whether organizers can maintain sanitation and space of three feet between attendees, according to Pat Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority.
“These guidelines are meant to maintain social distancing,” Allen said. “If outdoor events are able to maintain social distancing then that’s okay.”
However, those who are most at risk of complications from the disease shouldn’t attend such gatherings, Allen said. That means people over the age of 60 and those with diabetes or heart or lung disease.
“If you are in the at-risk populations, you should stay home as much as possible,” Allen said. “We can’t emphasize enough how dangerous this is for people who are at risk.”