It felt like an intervention. During a Tuesday afternoon press conference, all the local public health officials in our lives—state health officer Dr. Kathy Lofy, state secretary of health John Wiesman, Public Health—Seattle and King County health officer Dr. Jeff Duchin, several others—took turns describing the imminent threat Covid-19 posed if we didn’t get our social distancing act together. “Ideally, we should probably all stop socializing for the next several weeks,” Lofy said.
Then, last night, governor Jay Inslee and his wife, Trudi, sat us down for a gentler virtual talking-to. On a beige couch, the Inslees explained that their Thanksgiving celebration with friends and family would be going remote this year: no game of touch football in the yard, no potluck. With coronavirus cases reaching new heights this week—Washington’s most recent daily tally is a record—we, too, should forgo plans to gather with people outside of our households, they advised. But the governor would then offer a caveat of sorts. “Tonight we have a simple request from our family to yours: Do not have Thanksgiving gatherings unless you are positive that everyone there has quarantined successfully for fourteen days, which would start today.”
So…you’re saying there’s a chance. OK, not really. Few among us could claim our families could honestly pull this off. Think about how long it takes to arrange the group photo every year, to get everyone looking at the right camera and smiling and all that. Now we're supposed to sync our (lack of) activity for two weeks? Good luck.
We’re going to have to stay home this year. If we don’t, the state fears that health care providers could become overwhelmed in short order. “We’re in a period of what’s called ‘exponential growth,’ and every single day matters,” Inslee said. “We cannot wait until our hospitals’ halls are lined with gurneys waiting for rooms before we take decisive action.”
The governor, somewhat surprisingly, did not take action to restrict activities at the state level on Thursday. (He did instate a travel advisory today.) Though San Francisco has shut down indoor dining, Seattle and the rest of Washington remain in their current phases of the state’s recovery plan for at least a little while longer. Inslee did say measures to address the virus’s spread will be coming within the next few days. Mike Faulk, a spokesperson for the governor, floated Monday as a potential announcement date. “As with previous restrictions, the goal is to reduce how often people are likely to come into contact with people from outside their household, limiting the spread, and preventing our health care system from being overwhelmed,” Faulk wrote in an email.
It's unclear why those mandates must wait if "every single day matters," in the governor's words; the situation is already grim. The governor's chief of staff, David Postman, explained on the Tuesday call that people have Covid fatigue, that "people don't like" restrictions on the economy and other activities. The gist: We each need to be more personally responsible to curtail the virus's spread.
Inslee tried to sound a sunnier note near the beginning of his Thursday address. “We are optimistic that Thanksgiving 2021 will be the best ever,” he said.
With promising news about a vaccine released earlier this week, he may be right. But first we'll have to endure the strangest one yet.