SEATTLE — Shannon Koyano is a 39-year-old single mother living, nervously, in the place where the coronavirus got its first and deadliest foothold in America.
Like so many Americans now, she has worries. A lot of them.
One of her three children last week came down with a fever and a cough. She has an autoimmune disease, making her especially vulnerable. Six months ago, she invested almost her entire savings to open a gift boutique, called Hella Happy, that was thriving until recreational shopping became a thing of Seattle’s past.
Ms. Koyano is already pretty sure that filing for bankruptcy will be inevitable.
Since she lives in a state where cannabis is legal, she visited her local dispensary this week, hoping to buy some relief. Even that backfired. There were seven people in a small shop and “no one was gloving-up or masked or practicing true social distance,” she said. “I was extra panicky.”
There is more. Ms. Koyano fears that her ex-husband, who shares custody, is not enforcing her rules of hand-washing, hand-sanitizing and near-isolation.
She is also concerned by what appears to be a cavalier attitude among her neighbors, whose children she sees playing in groups at a nearby park when she walks her dogs. And anytime she logs onto the internet, she wonders if she is even worrying about everything she should be worried about. “It’s exhausting,” she said.
Communities around the country are grappling with a range of emotions brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, from anxiety to panic to grief.
But in Washington State, where the U.S. outbreak began and where there have been more than 1,600 confirmed cases and more than 90 deaths, the initial shock has given way to complicated philosophical questions about survival, humanity and the future.
“This is such a unique and rare circumstance in history and in our lives,” said Andrew Fleming, a psychologist who also runs, with his wife, a wedding venue on their farm on San Juan Island, north of Seattle. “In 10 years, in 20 years, in 30 years, we will be asking each other, ‘What did you do during the coronavirus?’ and we will be asking ourselves, ‘How did you respond?’”
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Percy Abram, the head of the Bush School, a private school with nearly 700 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, has been able to manage his anxiety through work.
In mid-February, when the number of coronavirus deaths in China was nearing 100, Dr. Abram, 49, and his team began to cancel field trips to China, India, Costa Rica and Morocco, as well as an exchange program with Chinese students. They have since canceled on-campus classes, re-conceived a fund-raiser to raise money for student financial aid into an online auction and worked the phones to make sure the permits to start a construction project in the fall move through the bureaucracy.
The head of a private school is in the business of the future: providing parents with a strategic vision of what their children’s lives could become through education and promising students a path to college and beyond. But all he can do now is try to guide them through the next few weeks.
“All I’ve really known is that the answer to work and to emotional strife has been to work harder and work more,” said Dr. Abram, whose wife, a medical doctor, has stresses of her own. Now he realizes that may not be enough.
“Soon, there is no ‘harder’ and no ‘more,’ and that leaves me with uncertainty I will have to face,” he said. “The city is going to slow down, my meetings will slow down and I will have to slow down and process my emotions.”
A half-marathoner, he has been taking long runs, releasing his tension through sweat and, occasionally, by screaming in the woods where he cannot be heard. He is keeping up with his regular therapy appointments. “That is something that I will not let go of,” he said.
Mental health professionals in Seattle have been overwhelmed with work for the past month, and many are juggling their own concerns with the anxiety of their patients.
Julia Hitch, 40, is a psychologist and a founder of the Seattle Clinic, a practice of 21 therapists. Last week, she saw patients back-to-back, including over the weekend, because of the influx of college students who have returned home after canceled semesters, disoriented and depressed.
This week, she is meeting with patients over video conferencing, working out of the spare bedroom that she and her husband are sharing as a makeshift office.
A big part of her practice is working with patients who have obsessive-compulsive disorder, including some she has worked with for years to overcome ritualistic hand-washing. “For someone who has stopped doing that, now it feels like a huge loss to them to have to go back to these behaviors,” she said.
But Dr. Hitch, who is the mother of 6-year-old twins, is also trying to manage her own anxieties. “I really value showing up fully for my kids and I really value showing up fully for my patients,” she said. “I have moments of panic over how do I manage being a home-school teacher and a mom and psychologist?”
Then there are her parents, who live nearly 3,000 miles away in New York. Last week, as Seattle went into an unofficial lockdown, her folks were carrying on with their normal routines. “They have not been taking this as seriously as they should,” she said. “I fret that something will happen to them and that I won’t be able to get to them.”
She is channeling those feelings into positive experiences created to share with her family. Last week, at a “family date night,” she, her husband and her children got dressed up and had a dinner party. She is also planting a garden with her daughters. “I have a black thumb,” Dr. Hitch said. “But this is something I have always wanted to do. And now there is time.”
For hourly and tip-based wage earners in Seattle’s restaurant industry, the economic realities are already hitting hard. So is the instant loss of the work families that restaurant employees often create.
On Sunday near Pike Place Market, a usually jam-packed tourist area that was all but desolate last weekend, Gretchen Kenney, a bartender at Seatown Market Diner for the past 10 years, faced a last call like none other.
The staff had learned a few days earlier that Tom Douglas, a celebrated owner, was temporarily shuttering 12 of his 13 restaurants citywide, including Seatown, both to slow the spread of the coronavirus and the bleeding of operational costs incurred by empty restaurants.
“Oh, gosh, come here,” said Ms. Kenney, 55, extending her arms, social distance be damned, to embrace a colleague.
It had been a poignant afternoon of drinking and reminiscing for her and the rest of the wait staff, who, in lieu of customers to serve, served themselves. “I feel nostalgic, but I’m not saying goodbye, I’m saying, ‘See you later,’” Ms. Kenney said.
Now, close to 7 p.m. and with the sun setting over Elliott Bay, Seatown’s waiters and bartenders poured outside, lit cigarettes and pondered what is next.
Ms. Kenney is the den-mother of the staff and she said she was mostly worried for her friends and their financial futures. Her husband, David Kenney, a landscaper, stood quietly beside her. “I have a husband with a job. We’ll be OK,” she said. “But it’s sad we won’t see our friends, we won’t see our regulars.” She started to cry. Her husband rubbed her back.
Eight miles north, in Seattle’s Greenwood neighborhood, Chrissy Hettich was holed up in her apartment trying to find the bright side.
A lifelong Seattle resident with a degree in Norwegian and anthropology from the University of Washington, Ms. Hettich, 27, has been working as a bartender for two and a half years at Purple Cafe & Wine Bar, in the city’s business district. Thanks to a clientele of bankers and tech executives with reliable expense accounts, Ms. Hettich was earning about $ 28 an hour including tips.
But business slowed down drastically March 4, she said, and it got worse from there. While everyone worries about paying the bills, financial stress is particularly triggering for Ms. Hettich, even though she does not yet have a family to support. “When I was in fifth grade, we lost our house to foreclosure, so I am really sensitive,” she said. “I’ve said if I can’t provide for my future children I’d fall apart. I never thought I’d have to say that as a healthy 27-year-old.”
Her greatest panic came when she wondered if she would be able to care for her cats, Brandy and Scotch, who were cuddled together on her bed. “I don’t care if I have to go without coffee or food or sell my couch. But if I have to give away my animals,” she said, “they’re all I have.”
She cried a lot in early March but got some good news last Thursday. During a meeting in which she expected to be laid off, the manager told her that she would remain employed, on a drastically scaled-back schedule. She then applied for partial unemployment benefits and was approved to receive $ 478 per week for 20 weeks.
A few hours later, her situation had shifted yet again. Late Sunday night, Gov. Jay Inslee signed an emergency declaration ordering all bars and restaurants in Washington to close.
“Feels like the rug got ripped out from under me,” Ms. Hettich said in a text message. “I had hope and now that’s gone.”
Everyone’s reaction to the crisis is influenced by personal experience. For Natasha Kuhn, a 44-year-old mother and wife in Seattle, that means calling upon the lessons she learned during teenage years spent in and out of bomb shelters, trying to survive the civil war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“I was saying to my mom the other day that this reminds me of prewar days,” said Ms. Kuhn, who left Bihac, a town on the Croatian border, with her brother in 1994 when she was 19. “You knew something was coming but it’s hard to know what it is.”
In a time when no one has the answers, she said, the trick is to stop seeking them out from others. “This is an amazing opportunity of building your inner strength and your strength as a community,” she said. “Is it 5,000 disinfectant wipes that is going to make you safe? I don’t think so. For me, it’s just knowing inside of myself that we’re going to be OK. Bad times come, we should not expect they won’t. So you deal with it and support each other and survive it.”