It’s hard to believe it’s been less than three weeks since the first coronavirus-related death in the United States was reported on Feb. 29 at the Life Care Center of Kirkland.
Since then a lot has happened.
There have been more cases of people throughout King County as well as Washington testing positive for the coronavirus (COVID-19) and unfortunately, more deaths.
The outbreak has led to a lot action being taken by government officials at all levels — from local to federal.
Although we’re only a few weeks into this, it’s becoming clear that COVID-19 is going to have long-lasting implications on not just the Pacific Northwest region but the entire world. There have been business closures, event cancellations or postponements as well temporary and permanent layoffs across many industries.
Difficult decisions to protect communities
All throughout the Eastside, cities have canceled and rescheduled meetings (only to have to cancel those rescheduled meetings, in some cases) and moved meetings online. In addition, facilities ranging from community and senior centers to city halls, have closed in efforts to prevent the spread of the virus.
“Our utmost priority is the safety of our community members, our staff and our first responders,” Kirkland Mayor Penny Sweet said. “Closing facilities and programs was a difficult decision, but right now we’re doing what needs to be done to protect the health of the people we count on, and the health of the people that count on us.”
In Kirkland, which is being called the epicenter of the outbreak, the city had quarantined dozens of first responders (mostly firefighters) after being exposed to the coronavirus from responding to calls at Life Care. Fire Station 21 was even taken offline to house some of those firefighters during their two-week quarantine period before they were able to return to work. The station has since been put back into service after the 8,000 square-foot building received a deep cleaning from specially trained crews who cleaned every surface of the facility.
In addition to these closures and cancellations, many cities have made proclamations of emergency.
While proclaiming an emergency may sound a little scary and foreboding, a big part of it is to make things easier for cities in their response efforts.
Autumn Monahan, assistant to the city administrator in Issaquah, said the proclamation makes it easier for them to “quickly acquire equipment, supplies or other resources that might be needed as this complex incident unfolds.” Monahan said it also allows them to request reimbursements from regional or federal levels.
In Bellevue, all city police substations closed “as they are staffed with volunteers, many of whom are in high-risk groups,” said Brad Harwood, the city’s chief communications officer.
In addition to offering flexibility to workers who are able to work from home, Harwood said the city also has increased cleaning protocols in city facilities for those employees who have to report in each day.
A domino effect
And then there are the schools.
When I first started working on this column, Northshore School District was the only district in the state that was closed for a long period. I reached out to Eastside school districts as well as post-secondary schools about their responses to COVID-19. I asked for people to get back to me by March 11 and most people responded by that morning. Much of what I received from the district and school spokespeople included the measures they were taking to minimize exposure, including suspending field trips and facility usage by outside groups, canceling or postponing evening events, suspending volunteer work and in some cases, moving classes online.
Some facilities closed but many had stayed open at that point.
Then the afternoon of March 11 happened.
That was when officials from Seattle Public Schools announced they were closing all of their schools for about two weeks.
When my colleagues and I learned about this, we knew what was going to happen. In that moment, we knew that as Jay-Z raps in “I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me),” “It’s, about, to go, down.”
And down it went — just like dominoes.
Lake Washington School District announced its closure not long after that; as did Bellevue School District. Mercer Island, Issaquah and Snoqualmie Valley school districts also announced their closures starting March 13.
Then on March 12, Gov. Jay Inslee ordered all schools in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties be closed from March 17 through April 24. The next day, he ordered the rest of the schools in the state to follow suit.
Like I said, a lot has happened in less than three weeks.
This is not normal
Needless to say, these are uncertain times for all of us.
We’re looking at a pandemic the likes of which I don’t think the modern world has seen. And before you point to other recent illnesses such as SARS or H1N1, I don’t remember either of those leading to an entire country to be on lockdown (Italy).
From the aforementioned country-wide Italian lockdown and President Donald Trump implementing a travel ban on Europe, to local school closures and large event bans, things can seem a bit concerning — if not downright scary.
These are far from normal times and as a result, people may be reacting in far from normal ways.
All over local social media, there’s an ongoing joke about people in the Puget Sound region hoarding hand sanitizer and toilet paper and stocking up in the case that they may be housebound for a long period of time.
Also, some companies such as Microsoft and Google are having workers remote in and work from home if they are able to.
A time to be there for each other
While all of this may seem like an overreaction to some, we need to keep in mind that people are acting and reacting in a way they feel will keep themselves, their loved ones, employees and the greater community safe and healthy.
Just because you personally may feel comfortable being out and about and going to work, doesn’t mean you should scoff at your neighbor who has stocked up on non-perishables, no longer goes into work and rarely leaves the house.
You don’t know what they could be dealing with in their day-to-day lives.
Maybe they live with an older person (COVID-19 tends to hit the elderly more severely than any other age demographic) or someone who has underlying health conditions or have a health condition themselves that could make them more susceptible to contracting the virus. Perhaps they have young children who are home from school and they are struggling to find or can’t afford child care. Maybe their company has been hit hard economically by the outbreak and they were laid off. Or maybe their buying in bulk is just the way they have been able to cope with any anxiety they may be feeling.
The world is constantly in flux and things are currently changing literally on a daily basis. As I said before, these are not normal times and people are not always going to behave as they normally do.
This being said, we need to give each other space to respond however we need to and to be compassionate with each other.
I admit this is something I definitely need to work on personally whenever I speak with my mother. She now calls and texts me and my sister a few times a week to tell us not to go out too much. For some reason I immediately revert back to a fed-up teenager in these conversations, rolling my eyes and sighing out an exasperated, “Ok!”
So, reader, do not follow my example.
I don’t know what things will look like in two months, two weeks or even two days, but one thing I do know is that now is the time for us to be there for each other and support each other.
Now is the time for us to be kind to each other.
Windows and Mirrors is a bimonthly column focused on telling the stories of people whose voices are not often heard. If you have something you want to say, contact editor Samantha Pak at spak@sound publishing.com.