Everyone has their moment. In the day, event, or moment that this strange virus they read about became concrete, it seemed different and bigger.
A year ago, Sunday, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan was the Grand Marshal at a Girl Scout parade downtown to promote her new Lemon-Ups cookie. “They’re absolutely delicious,” she said to a man in a lemon suit.
A few hours later she got a call. A man in Kirkland had died of COVID-19, the first confirmed death in the country. And there were more positive tests in the county.
“I will remember it forever,” Durkan said last week. “That was my first big ‘oh no’ moment.”
The city, Durkan said, had done some exercises the month before based on old plans for the H1N1 flu outbreak, but health officials still considered the risk to be low. And things didn’t change right away.
It would be nearly two weeks for Durkan to hold a personal press conference with Governor Jay Inslee and other local leaders to stop all gatherings of more than 250 people. From there, things escalated quickly. Soon canceled including: Personal Press Conferences, Schools, Restaurants, Sports, and Non-Essential Businesses.
For most of the past year, Durkan has kept her handwritten notes in a pocket of her briefcase from a phone call in early March with a researcher, showing the possible trajectory of the virus in the sky if no action was taken.
“I carried it with me every day when I had conversations and said, ‘This is the number we can’t reach,” said Durkan.
A year later, after 357 deaths in Seattle, 1,394 in King County, and 4,956 in Washington, there are some things Durkan would have liked to know then and things she would have liked to have done differently. She wishes we had prescribed masks earlier. She wishes the federal government had chosen a “uniform approach” for the virus. And she wished she – and everyone else – knew how long it was all going to take.
“Our entire mantra was to flatten the curve, and that was the right thing to do because it meant fewer people were dying and not overwhelming our health system, but it didn’t give everyone what they needed to know what was going to happen next,” Said Durkan.
But a year after the pandemic began, Durkan has no regrets about any decisions she has made or actions the city has taken. Seattle has the lowest number of coronavirus cases per capita among the 30 largest cities in the country and has the second most common coronavirus tests according to Durkan’s office.
“We made really tough decisions, but I think we made the right ones afterwards, too,” she said
The city’s fire department has partially transformed into a coronavirus test crew, running more than 650,000 free tests in five locations across the city. These efforts are currently making a slow transition from testing to vaccination.
Seattle Fire Department paramedics have fired more than 7,800 shots since the city first received vaccination doses in January. That’s just a small fraction of the vaccinations given in the city, most of which come from healthcare providers. But the city says they’ll build the infrastructure to get shots in the guns once supplies are less limited.
On Thursday, fire department paramedics handed out about 300 first doses of the Moderna vaccine at a pop-up clinic in the Philippine community center in Hillman City, and volunteers gave anyone who got a shot a packed lunch of yogurt and traditional Filipino dishes. Pancit, Siopao, Lumpia.
Agnes Navarro, director of the Philippine center, said they called people one by one to bring seniors who are eligible but may not speak English or are unfamiliar with the internet to the pop-up clinic.
“Bringing the right people here is a tremendous amount of work,” said Lt. Brian Wallace, who oversees the fire department’s testing and vaccination programs. “You’re really helping us break down the technological barrier.”
Durkan, who stopped by for about 30 minutes with hells and interviews, distributed the small auditorium, bumped his elbows and took photos.
“We have to stay a little apart,” she said, posing for snapshots. “Thank you for giving people hope in their arms,” she told medical professionals.
“I learned to dance the macarena in this room,” she quipped.
It’s the seventh pop-up clinic the city has operated and plans to open more permanent vaccination sites soon. About 70% of the vaccines the city has given went to people of color, Durkan’s office said.
Durkan, who is not running for re-election, has about nine months in office. In a tenure as mayor that has at times been dominated by protests against racial justice, a homelessness crisis and other issues, she knows that she has top priority in her remaining time.
“The number 1 thing we have to do is get vaccinations,” she said. “Being with the family again, going to restaurants, having nightclubs, all the ways we gather, the hockey games, the storm games, all of that require vaccinations.”
She predicted that by “late spring, early summer” vaccination supplies would not be an issue and the focus would be on getting the shots off as quickly as possible.
She is concerned about new strains of the virus, some of which seem more transmissible. She fears the pandemic fatigue will lead people to give up their vigilance – gathering up, taking off masks – and getting a mass vaccination on their doorsteps.
“Everyone is so tired of it, everyone wants out,” said Durkan. “This is how you keep people in this marathon mentality, that at the end of the tunnel there is a light, there is hope, but people can’t give up, we’re so close.”
Durkan has no power over the Seattle Public Schools as the district is overseen by an independently elected board. Even so, the schools teach nearly 50,000 children in the city she runs, almost none of whom were in a school building last year. And it is not easy to explain why restaurants are open and schools are closed.
“When history is being made of this pandemic here and around the country, it will be written that we have not served our children well,” Durkan said. “Children not only lost a school year, but everything that goes with it, and with it, I think, an increased depression in children and for our color students who already had a gap in opportunities, this will set them back so much. “
As for her own future – she will be unemployed in 2022 – Durkan, who has a Sonics sign on the door to her office and was a regular at Storm games before the pandemic, is jokingly optimistic.
“I will be the new CEO for Seattle Sonics and the trip will be great because COVID will be gone.”