I Live in Seattle, the Epicenter of the U.S. Coronavirus Outbreak

An insider look at daily life during the pandemic

Follow Elemental’s ongoing coverage of the coronavirus outbreak here.

II live in Seattle, the epicenter of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak. Here is what it’s like: Car traffic is drastically reduced. Three downtown restaurants closed last Wednesday. For good — not for safety’s sake. They ran out of money. There’s cause to believe that is happening every day.

Some movie theaters are open but capping ticket sales at 50% capacity to allow for space between people. Others have shut down. Public libraries, community centers, and farmers markets are closed.

Infections have been confirmed in 10 retirement homes. My 86-year-old mother-in-law lives in one of them, half a mile from my house. A patient there was hospitalized a few days ago.

This week, all gatherings for over 250 people were banned. I’ve had two literary events canceled in the past few days. I’m not financially impacted by those cancellations, but many Seattle artists are. Ijeoma Oluo, the author of So You Want to Talk About Race and a local treasure, has started a fund to help them out.

South Korea is testing 10,000 people a day.

Another $2 million fund has also been started to help gig workers and other vulnerable communities during what has quickly become clear is as much an economic crisis as a health one.

Seattle’s fatality rate looks bonkers high, around 10% versus the 3% reported globally. This is because our supply of test kits is staggeringly inadequate, so the people getting tested are mostly the people who are obviously sick. Because we aren’t accounting for the mildly ill or the asymptomatic infected, we lack a realistic denominator — as is the case throughout the U.S. The state is now spinning up its own test production, and tests will be free, but the time lost due to — what do you call it — the absence of a functioning federal government was not time we could afford to lose.

Far fewer than 10,000 Americans have been tested by now. South Korea, by contrast, is testing 10,000 people a day. At the Kirkland nursing home where most of the deaths have occurred, many of the 170 staff members are showing symptoms, but no tests are available to confirm COVID-19 or to ascertain whether any of the other staffers might be infected but asymptomatic. Did I mention South Korea is testing 10,000 people a day? 10,000 people a day.

The cherry trees are blooming. I’m tipping baristas and waiters 100%.

If you can arrange to ride this out in a state that believes in science and helping people, do that. The conversations I overhear in coffee shops (the coffee shops are jumping) are intelligent and rational. People talk about “flattening the curve,” a phrase you will come to know well. Flattening the curve means trying to at least slow the spread so that hospitals aren’t too overwhelmed. Whatever number of infections we are going to have, if we can have them over three months instead of two or four instead of three, that’s a flatter curve.

Remember, people will still get sick with other things during this pandemic, and they’ll need hospital beds, and the hospital beds might all be full, and then what?

I’ve become so unused to institutional decency in the past few years that the idea of people getting to keep their lights on for free made me tear up with gratitude.

Microsoft and Amazon employees are working from home all month, and both are paying hourly workers for 40 hours a week. Amazon has started a $5 million fund to help the businesses around campus weather the storm and isn’t collecting March rent from any tenants in its own buildings. Seattle Power and Light won’t be switching off anyone’s utilities for nonpayment this month.

I’ve become so unused to institutional decency in the past few years that the idea of people getting to keep their lights on for free made me tear up with gratitude.

Also, it’s good that corporations and utilities are showing intelligently targeted compassion because our president’s economic harm reduction plan is to bail out the oil industry, and his public health plan is to keep Swedes and Belgians out of America unless they connect through Heathrow. Meanwhile, South Korea is testing 10,000 people a day.

Except for hand sanitizer, the supermarkets are totally normal. My Whole Foods had dragonfruit and toilet paper and something called “cauliflower-based breakfast” and Meyer lemons. No Parmesan, though. “Is it somehow related to the virus?” I asked. “No,” the cheese lady said. “We did a Parmesan demo last week, and since then, it’s just been flying off the shelves.” “People are just now finding out about Parmesan?” my husband said when I told him.

The New York Times reports that a research team in Seattle sought permission weeks ago to test samples they had collected for a flu study for coronavirus. The government said no. The team backed off, and then they said, “Wait, fuck it, this is crazy” and did it anyway, and that’s how we know that coronavirus was widespread here much earlier than initially suspected. That “no” from the government cost a lot of time we could not afford to lose.

Fissures in our safety net are being exposed. For instance: whether to close public schools is a hotly debated topic, and one argument against closure is that some children are reliant on school for food, health monitoring, and medications. I’m embarrassed to say I’d never really considered this, but at least now I know.

The hospitalized man from my mother-in-law’s community died, but only one other resident has been diagnosed so far, and they are getting enough kits from somewhere to test everyone. Maybe from South Korea, which is testing 10,000 people a day. My mother-in-law has a gentle, cheerful kind of dementia and doesn’t really remember she’s in quarantine. “You know, John, I was just thinking I might drive out to the ocean for a week,” she told my husband. “Maybe one day soon, Mom,” he said.

The coronavirus outbreak is rapidly evolving. To stay informed, check the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as your local health department for updates. If you’re feeling emotionally overwhelmed, reach out to the Crisis Text Line.

Author of “Enjoli,” NOTHING GOOD CAN COME FROM THIS, and the forthcoming EXIT INTERVIEW, a memoir of ambition, work, and Amazon. www.kristicoulter.com

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store