Washington state COVID-19 cases could reach 64,000 by May if health officials and the public aren't able to contain the outbreak now, Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday.
The Evergreen State has at least 162 confirmed coronavirus cases across eight counties as of Monday night, but infectious disease experts say the actual number could be closer to 1,000 or more, Inslee said at a press conference.
He said public health officials have not tested all 7.5 million residents in the state, and experts believe there are "many, many other people today in Washington state" who have the virus but don't have symptoms and haven't been diagnosed yet.
"If we assume there are 1,000 or more people who have the virus today, what the experts are telling us, in an epidemic like this, looking at the characteristics of this virus, people who are infected will double anywhere from five to eight days," he said. "If you do that math, it gets very disturbing."
"When something doubles every day, it gets to a very large number very quickly. If there are 1,000 people infected today, in seven or eight weeks, there could be 64,000 people infected in the state of Washington," he said.
Inslee declared a state of emergency last month after the state reported its first death from the virus — a man in his 50s from King County with underlying health conditions.
The flu-like virus appears to be particularly severe for the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, Inslee noted on Tuesday. "We know this is a fatal disease all too frequently for those particularly of age and those who have chronic conditions," he said.
With that in mind, Inslee said, the state is issuing new rules for nursing homes and long-term care facilities, limiting patients to one person or visit per day. Visitors must be adults and the visit must take place in residents' rooms. This does not apply to "end of life situations," he added.
The move came as New York, which is also dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak, deployed the National Guard to New Rochelle, a coronavirus hot spot just north of New York City.
"This is unique in the United States of America, we haven't seen this anywhere else. Think about it, New Rochelle has double the cases of New York City, it's true, it's a phenomenon," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters Tuesday in announcing the deployment. Westchester County, where New Rochelle is located, had 108 COVID-19 cases out of the 173 confirmed infections across the state, according to state health department data Tuesday.
The COVID-19 epidemic, which began in China a little over two months ago, has not yet met world health officials' designation of a global pandemic.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said the WHO hasn't declared a pandemic in part because most cases of COVID-19 were still traced to known contacts or clusters of cases, and there wasn't any "evidence as yet that the virus is spreading freely in communities."