UW Emergency Management

March 6, 2020

January 21, 2020 – Fall 2021: UW’s response to the global COVID-19 pandemic

When an unknown viral outbreak started in Wuhan, China in mid-December 2019, most Seattle’ites never heard of the (new) novel coronavirus or COVID-19 communicable disease.  Within a month, the virus had spread throughout the world and became a pandemic. The first COVID-19 case in the US was found in Everett on January 21, 2020.  By early March, hundreds of WA State residents were exposed and tested.  UW recalled most overseas students, researchers and global study participants.  The UW prohibited all in-person classroom teaching and exams from March 9-30, 2020 including Spring Break.  All online instruction was extended for the Spring and Summer Quarters and Commencement was impacted.  The UW’s Advisory Committee on Communicable Diseases (ACCD), and various Unit Response Centers were activated to support the response and recovery. The EOC was activated on March 6th in a virtual-only status to practice social distancing.

General Situation/Incident Background


The University of Washington began to address and respond to an outbreak of respiratory disease caused by a novel (new) coronavirus that was first detected in China in December 2019.  A new coronavirus emerged in Wuhan, China in December of 2019 and is currently referred to as novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. Novel coronavirus is very concerning because it is new to humans and because it can cause serious infections, including pneumonia. Some initial studies suggest that social distancing measures have had an impact in slowing the spread of COVID-19 in King County, offering hope that with continued implementation of these measures, we can lower the total number of infections and deaths. In addition, continuing to follow social distancing measures could be a major factor in ensuring that healthcare systems do not become overwhelmed.  The UW’s Advisory Committee on Communicable Diseases (ACCD) first met on January 21, 2020.  Following the protocols in the Communicable Disease Outbreak Management Plan, the UW’s EH&S department initially took the operational lead in response efforts.


Emergency declarations

  • On February 29, 2020, the Washington State Governor declared a State Emergency.
  • On March 3, 2020, King County declared a County Emergency.
  • On March 13, 2020, the President declared a National Emergency.


Social distancing

King County was among the first to recommend social distancing practices in order to flatten the curve of infection. Employers have been encouraged to adopt work-from-home strategies and to cancel meetings since March 3, 2020. Practices of keeping six feet of distance as well as avoiding large events and gatherings if possible have been in effect since March 4, 2020.


Large gatherings and events

  • Large events were canceled and gatherings of over 250 people were prohibited statewide on March 11, 2020.
  • All non-essential businesses were closed, all events cancelled and gatherings of over 10-50 people prohibited on March 16, 2020.
  • All gatherings were prohibited on March 23, 2020.


School Closures

School closures have been in effect statewide since March 13, 2020 and are in effect through the end of the school year on June 19 (duration extended on April 6th). Schools are encouraged to continue to provide distance-learning options.


  • On March 19, 2020, Gov. Jay Inslee announced new restrictions on non-urgent medical and dental procedures to preserve personal protective equipment for health care workers addressing COVID-19.
  • On March 23, 2020, Gov. Jay Inslee issued a Stay Home —Stay Healthy order which will be effective until May 4th (duration was extended on April 2nd). The order requires every Washingtonian to stay at home, except for people:
  • Pursuing an essential activity, like shopping for groceries or going to a medical appointment.
  • Getting takeout food. (Food deliveries also are permitted).
  • Going to work at an essential business.
  • Going outside for walks and exercise, as long as they keep 6 feet apart.


On April 3, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released recommendations for people in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) to wear cloth face coverings. Wearing a homemade cloth mask (or other non-medical grade mask or face covering) may provide benefits in preventing the spread of COVID-19 in our community. Members of the general public should not wear medical grade or surgical masks at this time; medical masks should be reserved for healthcare providers on the front lines.