Mar 11, 2020

Coronavirus and the view from Seattle:

Our Sunday morning hang out

  Our usual Sunday morning breakfast spot at Seattle's Pike Place Market was empty at  9 a.m., an hour and a half after opening. 

  The staff at the Crumpet Shop applauded when we walked in. "Yeah," they shouted. "You're our first customers."

  Was it the coronavirus scare, or was it the switch to daylight savings time that meant it was really 8 a.m. body-clock time?

   More customers streamed in as we sat drinking our tea and reading the paper. By the time we left, things seemed about back to normal.

  Seattle is not a ghost town, as a recent NBC report would have you to believe. Rather we are a responsible citizenry pulling together to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. 

  Yes, traffic is light as Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks and other big companies ask their employees to work from home.  Businesses around Amazon's offices at South Lake Union and downtown are hurting for sure. But my neighborhood Uptown Espresso was busier than usual the other morning with people tapping on laptops. Ikea's parking lot was half-full. Lines were short, but people were shopping. Trader Joe's had plenty of everything as did our local drug store (with the exception of hand sanitizer). 

  As one of four areas in the U.S. where the virus is thought to be taking hold through "community spread," Washington has been making national news mainly because of the high number of deaths - 29 as of mid-week - almost all occurring in the same nursing facility in the Seattle suburb of Kirkland. Our governor has laid out directives banning gatherings of 250 or more, including religious services and sports events. County officials are asking  bars and restaurants to provide customers with "social distancing," space, ie: tables 6 feet apart etc. 

  Like many, my husband and I have been going about our normal activities, while avoiding large groups and skipping classes at the local gym. We're aware of the need to support our neighborhood businesses while at the same time complying with local government directives. So we're having people over, going to friends' houses and going out, but keeping our distance from others at restaurants, cafes etc. We have our usual supplies of food in the house (soups in the freezer etc.), but have avoided hoarding or buying excess amounts of anything. 

 When it comes to travel, it saddens me that Seattle will be hit hard.

Mount Rainier views from Sea-Tac Airport 
  Seattle has become Delta's West Coast hub for Asia travel, nearly all of which has disappeared just ahead of Sea-Tac Airport's plans to open a new international terminal later this year.  

  One of the big decisions will be whether or not to declare the end of the beginning of the Alaska cruise season. Cruises bring 1.2 million people to Seattle each season, but a temporarily halt seems imperative. Do we need to risk our already-stressed medical and emergency services on quarantines and evacuations that could be so easily avoided?  So far, the Port of Seattle has agreed to allow the season to start at least two weeks late. The first two cruise sailings of 2020 have been canceled, including the Grand Princess’ April 1 port call.  That ship has been the site of two coronavirus outbreaks over the past month, and was held off the coast of California recently after the latest outbreak was confirmed last Thursday. 

Cruise ships dock in Seattle 

 Our governor's prediction that "if the virus goes unchecked," the 366 cases confirmed in the state by mid-March could jump to 60,000 in six weeks, seems unlikely, since that would bring a state with a population of 8 million nearly up to the 81,000 cases reported in China.

  Washington is not China, and there is no indication things are going "unchecked." Our city, state and county officials are doing lots of things right. We have some of the best medical and science minds in the country here at the University of Washington and the Gates Foundation, all working together to make up for the weak federal response.

*Seattle won’t shut off water and electricity service during the city’s novel coronavirus emergency. City Hall will offer to defer city business-and-occupation tax payments for some small businesses and will set up a small-business recovery task force.

*The state’s unemployment insurance program will cover workers whose companies close due to the outbreak. Likewise, workers who require hospitalization or who must take care of a family member may be covered under the state’s Paid Family and Medical Leave law, which went into effect this year.

*Testing for the virus in the Seattle area will get a boost in the coming weeks as a project funded by Bill Gates and his foundation begins offering home-testing kits.

*The Metropolitan King County Council wants to increase volunteer opportunities for those who want to help. Legislation is expected soon.

Just as important have been actions taken by big companies, the same ones that are often criticized for not paying their fair share of taxes.

  *Amazon approved a $5 million fund to support small businesses around its Seattle headquarters struggling with a slowdown since the company told its employees to work from home.

 The company will provide cash grants to businesses with fewer than 50 employees or less than $7 million in annual revenue that serve the public, rely on foot traffic, and have a physical presence near Amazon.  

 Amazon also pledged $1 million, joining Microsoft and other corporations, in setting up a fund aimed at softening the economic blow on people without health insurance or sick leave; residents with limited English proficiency; communities of color; and health care and gig economy workers.

  *The Seattle Times, one of the country's last remaining family-owned newspapers, is pouring all of its resources into covering the story. It's removed its pay wall on virus-related reporting, and provides minute-by-minute online updates on the situation nationally and locally. 

  As for me, I had to make the decision to cancel a long-planned trip to Ukraine and other parts of Eastern Europe this spring, not because of fear of contacting the virus (more of a threat here than there), but out of a feeling of not wanting to impose on an already-stressed-out world. Everyone's scrambling on how to cope with what might lie ahead. Who needs leisure travelers getting in the way, or soaking up scarce medical resources.

  When things change, as they hopefully will, later this spring, summer or fall, I'll be traveling again. In the meantime, I've decided to focus on what I can do to help our businesses and tourism industry here at a home.  

The marina on Bainbridge island, a short ferry ride from Seattle 

  We live in one of the most beautiful parts of the country. I can't think of a better place to  spend some time. 


  1. I love, love, love the end of this blog. So true!!! Hello from Southern California.

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