Resilient Seattle

Seattle's Coronavirus Timeline, from Toilet Paper to Mask Laws

What just happened?

By Benjamin Cassidy August 4, 2020 Published in the July/August 2020 issue of Seattle Met

Image: Michael Guio

January 21

Health officials announce a Snohomish County man has tested positive for a mysterious new coronavirus stemming from Wuhan, China. Later evidence suggests it arrived in the U.S. even earlier.

February 11

The illness caused by the virus now has a name, and it’s scary-sounding: Covid-19. The “coronavirus disease” mash-up also alludes to the first year of cases.

Late February

Seattle Flu Study researchers discover community transmission of the virus after testing swabs and other samples without government permission.

February 28

Thanks to panic buying, weekend shoppers encounter shortages of masks, hand sanitizer, and, perplexingly, toilet paper.

February 28

Another grim distinction for Washington: The nation’s first reported coronavirus-related fatality hails from King County.

march 2

Helping rescue a botched CDC testing effort, the UW Medicine Virology Lab begins processing hundreds, and soon thousands, of samples—some entire states can’t yet handle that many.


Seven of the nation’s first nine Covid deaths are linked to Life Care Center of Kirkland, labeled the virus’s American epicenter even before its victim count increases by the dozens.


Microsoft and Amazon pivot to weekslong work-from-home policies after local public health authorities recommend telecommuting. Downtown empties out as other companies follow their lead.


The Sounders commit an own goal by hosting 33,000 fans at a match after health officials advise against holding large events.


Philanthropic organizations and corporate giants spearhead the Covid-19 Response Fund, the first round of local relief for vulnerable workers.


Governor Jay Inslee bans gatherings of more than 250 people to locally combat what the WHO now calls a pandemic.


Fine dining stalwart Canlis coins #WeGotThisSeattle, inspiring a hopeful, if counterintuitive (we got coronavirus?), movement acknowledged with a flag atop the Space Needle.


The White House declares a national emergency and limits gatherings over 10 people through the end of the month.


Tom Douglas officially shutters 12 of his 13 restaurants on the same day Inslee bans in-person dining and gatherings.


Seattle City Council approves a 60-day moratorium on residential and commercial evictions as small businesses struggle to survive.


Good news: Mayor Jenny Durkan’s $1.1 million Arts Recovery Package helps some of the decimated creative community compensate for lost gigs. Bad news: Local schools close for six weeks.


Inslee unveils his Stay Home, Stay Healthy order that prohibits all nonessential in-person activities and businesses.


Washington State Parks, national forests, and national parks are off-limits, nixing outdoor recreation as a quarantine escape.


The city encourages residents to make a “joyful noise” at 8pm in support of frontline workers. A nightly ritual is born.


Unemployment claims climb to record highs as Americans try to withstand the steepest economic collapse since the Great Depression.

april 2

Inslee extends his Stay Home, Stay Healthy order through May 4; it’ll be lengthened again on May 1 before officially expiring on June 1.


Though the U.S. Surgeon General railed against wearing masks weeks earlier, the CDC now recommends donning face coverings for protection.


A University of Washington–based model used by the federal government projects Washington’s peak hospitalization load is behind us.


Already yearning for childcare, parents learn school closures will persist until summer break.


More signs emerge that Washington’s begun to flatten the curve: The state orders the teardown of an army field hospital at CenturyLink days after returning ventilators from the national stockpile.


Durkan closes major Seattle parks ahead of a beautiful Easter weekend.


As its testing program continues to falter, the U.S. carries the greatest Covid death toll, surpassing Italy.


Tax Day gets pushed back to July, while some receive $1,200 government relief payments as part of the federal CARES Act.


King County Metro bus driver Samina Hameed dies after contracting the virus, highlighting the risks essential workers face throughout the crisis.


Thousands gather in Olympia to protest Inslee’s stay-home order. To no one’s surprise, few remain six feet apart.


The UW Medicine Virology Lab debuts antibody testing, a vital step toward determining who may already be immune to the virus.


Work-from-home life no longer seems temporary. After Zillow allows employees to remote in through the end of 2020, Amazon announces that its office workers won’t return before October 2.


Inslee reveals a four-phase economic recovery plan but keeps “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” in place for another month.


The great outdoors reopens as some hiking, boating, and fishing get the governor’s stamp of approval. Many construction projects resume too.


Cheers: A rules tweak gives bars and restaurants license to temporarily mix to-go cocktails for customers.


The city announces that 20-plus miles of streets closed to vehicle traffic during the pandemic for recreation will stay that way permanently.


With barbers and salons shuttered since the beginning of March, cases of untamed quarantine hair grow egregious.

May 16

Washington’s virus death toll reaches 1,000, hundreds more than what the UW model had projected in early April.

MAY 18

A new face covering directive requires those in King County to wear masks on public transit, indoors, and in crowded settings outside.

MAY 27

The U.S. reaches another ignominious milestone when it crosses 100,000 deaths since the pandemic’s outset.

MAY 29-30

The first protests in Seattle following the police killing of George Floyd draw thousands out of their homes and into the streets.

june 1

“Stay Home, Stay Healthy” expires, but masks, social distancing, and remote work live on.


King County enters Phase 2 and some restaurants reopen with reduced capacity. 


No, really: Gov. Inslee ups the King County mask directive with a statewide order for face coverings. And this time, it’s a misdemeanor to ignore it.


Seattle City Council passes a payroll tax to help compensate for coronavirus’s potential $300 million toll on the city budget.


As part of a month of rollbacks and pauses, Governor Inslee reduces the number of people allowed at social gatherings and nixes live entertainment, even outdoors.


Indoor dining is restricted to family members only, but the news comes on the heels of Mayor Durkan's announcement of free street closure permits for European-style cafe streets.


The Mariners open their truncated 2020 MLB season with a loss against the Houston Astros, a day before the Seattle Storm return to play with a win over New York. 

Images from top: Jane Sherman, Michael Guio, Shutterstock by Chris Peters Photography, Koldunova Anna, Shutterstock by SimpleShimple, Jane Sherman, Jana Early


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