On a Sunday afternoon in March, you would expect a normal overcast day in Seattle; Pike Place Market stuffed with people and flowers; the wharf teeming with tourists and random performers. Parking at the popular Kerry Park would be nonexistent. There wouldn’t be a clear shot in sight.
The cherry blossoms are in bloom arriving as they do every year. Mother Nature knows no difference except there is a huge change this year. Seattle grapples with the unexpected, “unprecedented” as they say – the novel coronavirus, Covid-19. As we welcome the longer days and warmer temperatures, celebrating that we made it through yet another drab Seattle winter, Covid-19 has infiltrated every day life and sent us back to our hibernation chambers. There is no telling how long it plans to stick around.
When the first case of Covid-19 appeared in the Seattle area (also the first in the United States), there seemed to be no cause for change. The infected person was quarantined and was a known quantity. The world’s focus was on the fight in China. But of course, as time went on, the story dramatically changed. It wasn’t long before the virus spread throughout communities and made thousands ill.
With the knowledge that the virus wasn’t so distant after all, first, there was panic buying at Costco and the run on toilet paper; then large events were cancelled and concerts postponed. Schools closed down, followed by dine-in restaurants, movie theaters, gyms, malls, libraries and parks. People were sent to work from home and less and less traffic filled the streets. And lets not forget about the endless emails taking over our inboxes from every company in America reiterating similar corporate reassurances, expressing hope for a quick return to normalcy and that life will go on.
Today you will mostly see people running or walking their dogs on their own and signs advertising for take out as restaurants adapted quickly. For now, the streets are empty. It’s eerily quiet.
With a population of three quarters of a million people in Seattle alone and where traffic to get in and out of the city is commonplace, seeing the streets clear out is no doubt an apocalyptic dream; the city abandoned with only the remnants of concrete and glass idols reaching towards the sky.
Police are patrolling the market to keep Seattle’s treasure safe and the lone performers go on. But sadly, no one is listening. The infamous Pike Place pigs, Rachel & Billie, stand alone. Even Piroshky Piroshky Bakery, which normally has a switchback line out into the street, is empty. The Gum Wall acts a tribute to yesteryear.
The governor issued a stay home order on Monday as a further attempt to combat the growing spread of the disease and protect those most vulnerable. People are difficult to control but fear is a powerful weapon. We live in a world of uncertainty right now, more so then any other time in people’s recent memory, likely in most people’s lifetime. The pandemic is affecting everyone in some way which is also why it seems to be bringing people together, albeit virtually. While it affects each person’s life a bit differently, it’s a commonality among even the most diverse populations. Our collective new reality is the unknown.
The lives lost and the risks assumed by those trying to combat the virus are significant. It’s a different kind of war we find ourselves in. The impact the pandemic is having on the economy and the hardest hit industries is also troubling. Working in the travel industry, it’s unimaginable to think of a world without travel. As I sit in my home office close to the airport, I listen to the jet engines roaring as they lift off into the sky, but even those seem far and few between these days.
Travel is the lifeblood for so many. The industry is bound to recover at some point, but at what point, nobody knows. And so we live in a waiting game to see who or what will win out first. People will certainly be less apt to travel as it becomes more and more difficult, towing behind an increased risk. Too many restrictions, warnings and fear (not to mention decreased spending due to an unstable economy) can serve as daggers to the industry’s heart. To make matters worse, there is no real precedent to navigate through the trying times and forecast what the total impact of the virus will be. Decisions laying the path for the future are based on history.
So now we must wait; anxiously wait to see if we come out of this alternative reality with jobs, with our health and with our sanity. Until then, Seattle sits patiently for people to fill the streets again, for the maddening lines at Pike Place to once again spill into the street, and for life to resume as we all know it with the hope that we can look back on this moment in history and remember it all as a bad dream.