Collective Thoughts

When Will the Pandemic Truly Be Over?

As experts track the official metrics, we pause to consider the personal ones.

By Seattle Met Staff May 6, 2021

Our dogs will be awfully lonely when remote workers head back out into the world.
Photograph by Chona Kasinger

Washington's spike of infections and hospitalizations just as all the state's adults finally become vaccine eligible is just the latest point of proof: Our fight against coronavirus isn’t exactly straightforward. Amid all the data dashboards and vaccine stats, most of us have some sort of personal benchmark for what it will mean when we really, truly, finally make our way back to normal. Seattle Met editors reflected on what that moment might look like—then we asked some notable locals. Responses ranged from far-reaching to banal, optimistic to grim—just like our psyches on any given day. Our newly adopted pandemic pets may miss us, but the world awaits. 

Stefan Milne, Arts Editor

Crowds were the first thing to vanish for me, but I don’t think I’ll feel the pandemic is over as soon as I’m at a packed concert or in a busy restaurant again. The real end will be the first time I forget—when bustle no longer feels novel, when my mind isn’t persistently anxiously aware of the infectiousness of strangers’ breath, when, paradoxically, I’m not aware of anything ending at all. I have no idea when this will be.

Stefan Asked: SassyBlack, Musician

I really don’t think the pandemic will ever truly be over, to some degree. I know that it’s changed what I think a pandemic is. It’s changed how I perceive the flu, HIV, and all pandemics throughout time, basically…. Even though the quarantining and the social distancing will end, I don’t think the impact of the pandemic will ever end.

Allison Williams, Deputy Editor

Some of my favorite travel moments happen when something goes long—a meal, a drink, a drive. I'll be meeting a work contact or just greeting a bartender or cab driver, but then some remark sets off a long chain of conversation. A perfectly polite interaction morphs into a connection of real laughs and actual insight, and I'll grab my notebook to jot down the passionate recommendations the local tosses off the cuff. What little travel I've done during the pandemic has been clipped and distant by necessity, so I can't wait for casual, accidental bonding moments to return.

Allison Asked: Tom Norwalk, President and CEO, Visit Seattle

Close to home, the return of large meetings at the convention center. Multiple cruise ships in the harbor. It was one of the first major things to go, and it will be one of the last things to come back. It's people face to face, walking in the streets. It just reinforces that we are a city that is really meant to be discovered in a very experiential way. When you add the density of people in the market, the waterfront, or Belltown, it adds a vibe to our city that we have not felt for about 14 months.

Benjamin Cassidy, Associate Editor 

When I can drink alone…at a crowded bar. Since Covid hit, I’ve approached every visit to an indoor space with the haste of a bank robber (and the facial wear). This is not the pace at which solo bar visits, those blessed opportunities to sip and people-watch, are best enjoyed. Pre-pandemic, I’d often walk a few blocks to Capitol Cider on Monday nights for their basement jam sessions. Descending into a dim room filled with board games and tunes and quiet conversation on a soggy night felt like a trip into Seattle’s psyche—reserved, creative, a bit dark. I suspect the moment I dry my boots at the door and jockey for elbow room downstairs will mark a return to a less isolated state.

Ben Asked: Dr. Joshua Schiffer, Infectious Disease Researcher and Physician, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center 

There will be no exact moment. I think the epidemic will die slowly with periodic local flares of infection across the U.S. The transition back to normal life will therefore continue at its steady, gradual pace with occasional hiccups. 

In some ways, the pandemic will leave us forever changed.  I personally do not think that we have had adequate time to reflect on the true scope of our national trauma, and to process the fact that over half a million Americans have died. Moreover, as a scientist in the field, the pandemic has fundamentally altered the way we conduct research and in that sense, will impact my day-to-day life for the rest of my career.

Allecia Vermillion, Editor in Chief

If you want to distill it down to the tiniest moment, any return to normal will be incomplete until I can duck out of the office at lunchtime to stand in line for an Evergreens cobb salad, assembled, chopped, and tossed by a trained professional under my distracted gaze. Stuck at home last spring, I was surprised how much I missed this routine—and having someone else prep my greens for me.

Allecia Asked: Rachel Yang, Chef and Co-owner, Revel and Joule

For me the end of the pandemic will come when we are talking about happy hour menus, industry nights, events where you travel. It’s also the most mundane things you used to do. To be able to stop in for a quick milkshake with my kids after soccer practice and not worry: Indoors? Outdoors? Are they open? Did I grab the masks? All those 10 million things you worry about.

Zoe Sayler, Digital Editor  

Dating has become a lesson in planning ahead: Are you on your first vaccine dose or your second? Have you had unprotected eye contact with anyone recently? I hardly remember how we found strangers in bars, but we did it, and we kissed in bathroom stalls and we bought each other drinks and we offered up sips willy-nilly, because you just have to try this cocktail. The pandemic will be over for me the moment I lock eyes with a stranger—knowing, by virtue of their maskless face, that they aren’t just staring at my decidedly over-fancy dress. Knowing that we could soon be mere inches apart giggling over shared beverages.

Though I really don’t need it to go any further than the lustful glance to know that things are good again.

Zoe Asked: Candace Frank, Cofounder of Bawdy Love and F*ck Yeah Bodies!

The pandemic has made even more people have even deeper problems with their bodies. Getting in one place where we feel comfortable again being vulnerable with each other and sharing that part of ourselves will be huge. I’m picturing wearing this gorgeous sequin dress with a flirty little full skirt, and then a harness on top—being kind of a human disco ball. Imagine a whole room of people saying, "Your body is beautiful, and so is mine," and then hugging each other and dancing together.

And you’re encouraged to feel each other—without it needing to be a sexual thing, but just to feel close to somebody else, and feel like someone wants to embrace you. As a fat person, we are told so much that people will not want us the way that we are, or that our bodies are unacceptable, and as humans we interpret not being touched as proof that there’s something wrong with us. Being in a place where we feel accepted and embraced will be such a beautiful moment.

Is There Anything You Hope Sticks Around?

A bonus round of musings on the ways we showed up for one another—and whether any of it should last.

The awareness of the myriad ways in which people struggle, and the direct ways we can help those who are struggling. Stefan Milne

I hope people continue to advocate for musicians. I hope music venues will be able to have more secure plans…. I also want people to still care about Black lives and Asian lives. I want people to still continue to care about people of color and queer people and women, and [to] stand by their words…. I hope that the music industry will be able to be held accountable itself and actually stay moving forward…. I really hope that people take the step to have anti-racism training and anti-homophobia training and anti-transphobia training—that’s what we need in the music industry. That’s what we need worldwide. —SassyBlack

I’ve loved sidewalk hangs in the neighborhood. In the early days of the pandemic, our Capitol Hill block decked out in folding chairs in driveways and on curb strips, neighbors just hanging with neighbors. One hardy crew down the street is still going strong, and I hope more gatherings return this summer. Allison Williams

The whole thought of responsible travel. The consciousness that we have an obligation as travelers about where we're staying or what we're doing while we're there. It's thoughtful, it's planned; I think there's an awareness that it's not just us. Tom Norwalk

The visual reminders of the city’s compassion. For the most part, Seattle masked up. Restaurants fashioned religious-looking outdoor structures just so friends could safely worship the city’s abundance of great eats. Runners zig-zagged across streets to stay six feet apart from side-eyeing walkers. As a newcomer to the city, I learned that the Freeze was merely a shell; there was plenty of warmth on the inside. —Ben Cassidy

No. I will not miss any of it. On a personal level, I confess that the pandemic did provide my family with some less hurried, high-quality time together, particularly last summer. We bought a puppy and spent much more time outdoors than in the past. I am extremely grateful for this. I have also been so inspired by the extraordinary work of my scientific and clinical colleagues at UW and the Hutch.  Most importantly, I have not yet lost a friend or loved one to Covid-19. However, I recognize that these benefits arose only because I occupy a privileged space in society. Unlike so many less fortunate people in our country, I was able to safely quarantine, work effectively from home, and continue most of the activities that I enjoyed pre-pandemic with only minor inconvenience. Despite this, I am completely heartbroken at this stage. I still cannot believe that many thousands of people died preventable deaths.  I want this pandemic to end because I want the suffering to end. Dr. Joshua Schiffer

The zeal to support local businesses, even when cheaper or faster alternatives exist—and the ability to order takeout online. —Allecia Vermillion

Customers and restaurants both have more respect for everyone’s space and health. It’s actually a nice experience to go to a restaurant where there’s tons of space to spread out…but probably not six feet. Rachel Yang

This was the year that everyone had a mental health crisis. It’s true! And with that newly universal understanding—of burnout, of anxiety, of the frazzled state of a mind constantly under stress—came a world finally willing to give us a break when our brains were on fire. Feel less productive than normal? Not eating well? Forgetting to exercise? It’s a goddamn pandemic, influencers and friends and mothers assured us—take the time you need. Let’s extend this grace. Zoe Sayler

We’ve been doing these Instagram Live sales, and we’re connecting with people who are on the other side of the country. A lot of folks don't have anybody near them that they can even buy plus-size clothing from. So it's giving us an opportunity to kind of spread the fat vanity around—like, hey, it's totally okay to think that your ass looks amazing, even if you're fat. And here's two people who feel that way. And now we can get that out to thousands of people. Candace Frank

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