The Corona Diaries
Updated: May 2
What happens when you're outside Seattle, and inside the house?
Bothell, Washington is a former horse-town turned rapidly expanding Seattle suburb. Where it used to be known for its many senior living centers, it is now full of young families and tech workers who can’t stand to live in Seattle. The city’s motto is “Bothell: For a Day or a Lifetime”, or, as my mom and I joke, “Bothell: Where a Day is a Lifetime.” This is my home.
On January 19, 2020, the first case of novel coronavirus, or Covid-19, was reported in Snohomish County, Washington. This is Bothell’s county. I, proud member of the Germaphobe Club of America, am not thrilled by this news. I had been alternating between seeking out information on the virus in China and pointedly avoiding any news that may have come out. This news spooks me, but I plunge into my mantra of “It’s fine, it’s fine. They have him quarantined and isolated. It won’t get out. Everything will be fine. He’ll be fine.” Little did I know that this one guy was the least of our problems.
Life went on as usual, but a sense of foreboding began to seep through Bothell like an insidious smell. Without saying anything, people began standing a few feet further apart from each other. Handshakes were not proffered or received. We all began quietly taking out our hand sanitizer and scrubbing up. We started paying more attention to what we touched and for how long. There was an overall sense of caution.
Kirkland, Washington is the closest thing Seattle has to a beach town. Situated on the shore of Lake Washington, it has a marina filled with expensive boats with docks weaving along the shore, sandy beaches, and open, clean parks. Marine Drive is filled with cute boutiques, swim gear shops, and ice cream parlors. Real estate on the waterfront is predictably pricy, but the further from the water, it becomes more run-down suburb and less chic marine metropolis. It was here that Life Care Center, a senior living facility, where the Coronavirus death was reported. Life Care is a humble center. Dated but well kept, it sits, and many things do in the northwest, in a copse of protective Evergreens. Big picture windows open the inside to the out and let in a little bit of nature to the elderly residents, many of which are disabled. It is an inauspicious place to become the eye of the Covid storm, yet in late February, at least six patients tested positive. On March 1st, another confirmed death. By March 5th, five more people had died. A man in North Carolina died after just returning from a visit to Seattle, and Kirkland’s Life Care Center. The families of the residents, in a fit of fear and frustration, called a press conference. Cameras from all over the country trained their lenses as daughters, sons, and grandchildren talked to their loved ones through those big picture windows, wondering if this was the last time they would see them alive.
I sat on the couch in a tight ball as I heard this news. I went to college in Kirkland, only about two miles from the waterfront. On the night on high school graduation, myself and a bunch of the members of the senior class ran down a dock and jumped into the lake at midnight, celebrating our new freedom. I met friends for coffee at Zoka’s on Marine and ate Ben and Jerry’s on a park bench on my last date. This was my back yard. It was fifteen minutes away. “But it’s only at Life Care Center” my mom said when I voiced my concerns. She had flown back to Seattle for a week to visit the grandkids and me before continuing snow birding in Arizona. I was so happy to see her, the Lorelai to my Rory, but I increasingly felt that she had taken a pretty big risk. “Mom, we don’t know if it’s just Kirkland. This is travelling all over the world. It’ hitting Europe now. Seattle is an international city. People fly here from all over.”
“But we live in Bothell.”
“But people commute from Bothell to Seattle every day.”
News then hit that a teenage girl from Woodinville, about six miles away from me, contracted Coronavirus. She had no ties to Life Care Center, and neither she nor her family had recently traveled. She was the first confirmed non-contact case in the US.
Now I became really and truly worried. Washing my hands became my favorite new hobby. I wished I could put Lysol in a holster and walk around my home like the Lone Ranger, shooting down rogue germs with my trusty squirt bottle. I looked out my window at the cars going in and out of the neighborhood with suspicion. Who are you? Where are you coming from? Why are you even out right now? I must be a pretty picture, my nose smushed against the glass, hair in a messy bun, oversized sweatshirt on, spray bottle in hand. All I need to add are a couple of cats to earn the title of Cul-de-Sac Crazy Lady.
Each day at the beginning of March was like a new wave hitting. There really was not such a thing as day and night in Seattle. There were only hours now. Hours between reported cases. Hours between new announcements. Hours between deaths. Hours between waking and sleeping. By March 11th, the death toll rose to 31 deaths from 374 confirmed cases. All schools were closed for the next six weeks (which now seems so quaint), and all gatherings of more than 250 people, private or public, were cancelled. Yeah, we did not need to be told twice.
Now it really hit. The storm was no longer on the horizon; it was full landfall now. The grocery stores were stripped of cleaning supplies and toiletries, with the noted exception of the all-natural brands. In a pandemic, no one wants that sunflower and bunny crap—they want bleach. The body care shelves were a gaping chasm between the shampoo and shave gel. News came that Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson had tested positive for Coronavirus. That was like an American institution getting sick. It’s as if the Statue of Liberty tested positive. I was only half joking. He’s not the only one sleepless in Seattle now.
The following week cases skyrocketed across the United States. Los Angeles gave the order to shelter in place. New York’s cases seemed to double every two hours. The city shut down almost immediately.
Something strange happened to me, though. Once it hit, once the full depth and breadth of the effects of Covid-19, I was okay. I pray, and still pray, every night that we will remain calm and cool, that we will be safe and that this will end soon. Yet what I really feared, or feared the most, was the unknown. How much, how long, how big, how contagious, how deadly, how scary? Now I know. Faith and answers are a powerful combination. Prayer is the ultimate comfort.
The other weapon in my arsenal is that I am a self-proclaimed, licensed and bonded Grandmillenial. I may be thirty, but I am also seventy-five. I am the biggest home body you have ever met. Home is my favorite place in the entire world. I love home hobbies. I recently learned to knit. I paint watercolors (terribly, but still do). I scrapbook and make greeting cards. There is nary a jigsaw puzzle I have not wanted to solve. I have shelves filled with books new and old, their covers expectantly waiting for me to crack. As a child “Go to your room” was never a punishment, but a treat. Now that my work had closed indefinitely, I had plenty of time for the plenty I did.
The difficult part was that I was in the house alone. My parents were both back enjoying the warmth of a desert sun. My brother is a firefighter who had no choice but to be exposed to others every day, so it was best to avoid his home. My sister likewise, and also nearly two hours away. My two best friends were a no go, one with a newborn baby and the other with pre-existing conditions that made her vulnerable. I left the television on constantly for company. I spoke to the dolls I collected (see Grandmillenial). I anthropomorphized the furniture. The ottoman was angry at me for spending so much time on the sofa. He said that he was tired of being used only for laundry and feet. He had more to offer the world. The sofa said that he was just jealous, and that he should be careful what he wished for. It wasn’t always so great having a person on you all the time, sneezing and napping and inevitably getting cracker crumbs all over you. As of now, they aren’t speaking.
Now it is mid-April. Bothell has had two weeks of beautiful sunny skies and rising temperatures. Winter has completely loosened its grip on us, and so to, the virus, if only just a little. Many of my neighbors are out planting new flowers in their gardens. Parents are out riding their bikes with their kids. Chalk art decorates some of the sidewalks. People are showing each other grace. There are extra smiles in the check-out line, more courtesy on the streets. Every conversation with a stranger has ended with a personal “stay safe.” Very few of the people I have come in contact with in person or online have said anything political at all.
I think when we look back on our lives, or even look back at history, we can see that God has a way of transforming the bad into good. There are very few bad things that do not have some sort opposite "good" echo. Maybe this is ours. Perhaps for this moment, we can stop defining each other by "red" and "blue" thinking that who we vote for sums up all of our humanity. We instead see each other as neighbors, allies, fellow soldiers in the fight for health, safety, and sanity. A reminder that we are all more alike than we are different, and our differences will divide us irreparably if we let them. Let's not let them.