Photograph courtesy Steven Miller
Being Seattle Saved us. When the first reported case of the new coronavirus surfaced just outside city limits, the Pacific Northwest became the first American front of a war we’d never imagined. Somehow, Seattle’s stew of nerds and introverts mounted a response, one that brought the entire city together.
We were also some of the first to ponder whether we could truly work from home, shut down public life, avoid each other for months at a time. Was it because our Seattle Freeze mentality primed us to keep neighbors at arm’s length? Because our local industries had already overcome physical limitations to reimagine airplanes and cloud computing? Logic-minded Seattle—a city flush with medical research—listened to public health officials a little better than other places, reports said. That may have made the difference.
In this strange new world, we still had each other, even if it was at a distance. People leaned out their windows with cowbells and kitchen-pot drums, making celebratory noise every night at 8pm to salute the doctors and nurses, bus drivers, and grocery store workers who faced exposure to the mysterious new disease. We tested ourselves for coronavirus on an unprecedented public scale, and we donated protective equipment to the front lines. Even at peak pandemic, Seattle’s sick never overpowered our hospital’s capabilities.
The Emerald City responded to Covid-19 with caution, but we never retreated into fear. On the surprise sunny days of spring, friends held socially distant happy hours across curb strips and backyard fences, and neighbors shopped for groceries for elderly acquaintances. As the city’s arts and dining industries shut down with a crash, funds to support workers sprung up faster than the spring blooms—like those sold on street corners to support local tulip farmers.
Of course, King County also saw more than 500 deaths from the virus in the first three months, including our especially vulnerable elders. The city scrambled to stop the spread among its already swollen numbers of homeless citizens, quickly placing more than 600 into individual housing, permanent or temporary. Results are inconclusive on whether it will work—and on why it took a health emergency to treat a homeless one.
The coronavirus pandemic hit Seattle at the end of February with alarming speed, but it won’t exit with the same haste. A city this self-reflective will be inspecting our own progress for years to come. The very logic that fueled a successful response may struggle with the uncertainty of its fallout, leaving us uneasy; Seattle may have been a diligent student, but no one’s handing out A+ report cards.
One thing is clear: The city led the charge against coronavirus and will be at the center of innovations to test for and treat it. We won’t forget these months of murals on boarded up shop windows and eye-smiles over handmade masks. Seattle survives because of who we are.