New government mandates and an increased number of the sick and dying seem to come at us practically every hour, and as U.S. citizens attempt social distancing from their homes — perhaps not leaving for days on end — the time seems to jumble together.
It’s hard to fathom that the coronavirus, or COVID-19, hit the States nearly two months ago in Washington State.
On Jan. 19, a 35-year-old man checked into an urgent care clinic in Snohomish County, Wash., with a four-day history of cough and fever. After checking in and waiting for around 20 minutes, he was taken into an examination room and underwent evaluation by a provider. He disclosed that he had returned to Washington State recently after traveling to visit family in Wuhan, China.
Only the beginning
Prior to its mark as ground zero for the pandemic, Kirkland, a suburb near Seattle, was perhaps known best as the namesake for Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand, but that all changed on Feb. 27, when leaders of the city learned that a resident was being tested for the virus.
Calls began to pile up with seniors experiencing similar, flu-like symptoms, and two days later public-health officials had reported at least one death in Kirkland attributed to COVID-19. Of the now more than 50 deaths in Washington, 27 are linked to a nursing home called Life Care Center, according to Public Health Seattle and King County, and Overlake Hospital.
The once-buzzing birthplace of Starbucks and home of tech giants like Amazon has now essentially shut down, foreshadowing what would soon come for the rest of the country, and Kirkland’s response in particular is being watched closely from around the country as other major cities continue to look to them for some sort of guidance as infections threaten to spread.
By land or by sea
The dramatic worldwide collapse in air travel accelerated this weekend as the U.S. expanded its ban on passengers from Europe and other governments enacted their own barriers to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Airline CEOs are comparing the drop in traffic to the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001 — when Boeing reduced production from 527 jets in 2001 to just 281 jets two years later. In less than three years following the attacks, Boeing cut 27,000 jobs in Washington state.
Sam Cho, the Port Commissioner of Seattle, sets the policy for both the airport and seaport. He told us that, unsurprisingly, the number of travelers has dramatically dropped, and both international and national flights have been cut back.
"People are traveling less," said Lance Lyttle, managing director of the Aviation Division at the Port of Seattle to KomoNews. "Last year at this time, we would typically see approximately 50,000 people coming through our checkpoints. Now, we are seeing 16,000 to 17,000."
Cho reminds us that it’s not just the airlines that are missing out on business either, citing the detrimental effects on jobs for airport workers, both TSA and in restaurants and gift shops. “For gig workers like taxi drivers and Uber and Lyft drivers — they've also seen a huge drop off in passengers who are being transported to and from the airport, and they're suffering as well.”
Boeing, the largest private employer in Washington state, now faces a stark near-term decision on whether it must slash jet production that would negatively affect many of their 72,000 employees. Most work on commercial airplanes, and all those jobs are at risk of at least temporary suspension, and just as we’ve seen within other service-based industries across the nation — workforce cuts reverberate sharply throughout the local economy. Its impacts likewise would be felt on Boeing’s global supply chain.
A top Boeing executive — speaking with the HeraldNet on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation — said Sunday that contingency planning at the highest levels of the company is still focused on avoiding layoffs so as to enable the business to recover quickly once the virus emergency passes, and said Boeing’s leadership is unlikely to announce a firm plan until later in the week, but that for now “the conversation here is leaning even more toward doing everything we can to protect employees.”
Cho is also worried about severe losses for the seaport of Seattle, which serves as a starting point for popular routes between the city and Alaska. “We've had to postpone the first two boats,” he says. “Originally, the first cruise ship was supposed to go April 1 and April 5 out of Seattle. We have now postponed or canceled those two ships indefinitely, and we're just kind of reassessing what else we need to do for the remainder of the cruise season.”
“Cruise ship travelers spend a lot of money that goes towards the local economy. These are usually retired, pretty wealthy individuals, coming to Seattle and spending a lot of money or getting off the boat and staying in the city. The industry is a huge economic stimulus for us that we’re gonna lose basically, and then obviously the last thing is cargo. We are the fourth largest cargo port in the country. Our biggest trading partner is China, and our cargo volumes are down.”
Those losses, similar to the ones felt throughout the entirety of the travel industry, have trickled down to truckers and freight workers who are moving the cargo, and the only demand for workers that has risen is in the sanitation industry.
Helping citizens get by
Fortunately, Seattle is helping out their citizens by providing $800 each in vouchers to more than 6,000 families to help them buy food, cleaning supplies and other household goods at Safeway supermarkets, Mayor Jenny Durkan said Monday.
The $5 million program will benefit "eligible families who are currently enrolled in city-supported child care programs and food assistance programs," Durkan said in a statement. "As schools and child care facilities close, we need to do everything we can to support families and ensure they can put food on the table.”
Durkan also plans to impose a moratorium on commercial evictions of small businesses and nonprofit organizations, she said in a news release about the city’s latest attempt to help people rocked by the impacts of the public health crisis on the local economy, whose numbers are large and still growing.
What we can learn
The spread of the coronavirus isn’t just affecting the health of thousands across the country and their jobs — it’s also making its mental health mark on millions of Americans who are feeling the weight of uncertainty about their futures.
“I think a lot of people are pretty freaked out already, anxious and fearful,” Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said in an interview with the Washington Post. “As in all things, it comes down to the balance between having a reasonable concern, especially if it’s motivating to take actions that can reduce risk, versus having this take over your entire world to the point where you become paralyzed.”
Taking measures to safeguard our mental health are important, and though we might all be practicing the physical act of social distancing, many have been finding ways to support their fellow Americans through virtual means, whether through the creation of Facebook group communities or by crowdfunding for those who have been financially impacted.
Supportive Facebook groups have grown quickly, like “Corona: SEATTLE Business Owners Fight Back!’’ which amassed nearly 700 approved members by Tuesday afternoon. The creators of the group have also launched a like-minded “We got this SEATTLE!’’ daily podcast according to the Seattle Times.
Business owners posting to the Facebook group have offered free services, from corporate videos to vehicle marketing wraps, as well as ideas on transforming from brick-and-mortar entities into virtual ones. The Seattle Times reports that one of the group’s creators, Aaron Blank, who is the CEO of The Fearey Group public relations firm, helped a chef who’d lost her business to offer virtual cooking classes to Fearey Group employees as a corporate team-building exercise, with Amazon Prime delivering the needed groceries.
Facebook is even tracking the group and sharing it with users to build community momentum. The company has announced a $100 million investment in grants for 30,000 small businesses in 30 countries impacted by the coronavirus.
After the artistic community in Seattle was hit with cancellation of all public events in the past week — local author Ijeoma Oluo quickly set up a GoFundMe on Monday to raise and distribute funds. Within days, the fund raised $80,000 and distributed $10,000 to local artists. It’s also in the process of distributing another $30,000 to artists directly impacted by loss of income due to the coronavirus.
People with disabilities, people of color, undocumented people, older adults and others have benefited from a grassroots effort formed in the city called Covid19MutualAid, which has been recruiting volunteers for direct support, such as food and grocery deliveries, as well as advocating for systemic changes that would make communities less vulnerable in the first place.
When change seems to have become the only constant in such an uncertain time, it becomes easier to feel like some of the most important things are out of your control — which is a scary feeling for anyone. We take back a semblance of that power when we use our time and resources to support our community and those in even more vulnerable positions than ourselves.
Check out online resources for how you can help others, including purchasing gift cards and wares from your local businesses that might be hurting, donating nonperishables to local food banks and fostering an animal from your local shelters (plus, a new quarantine buddy never hurts).