Two Months of Self-Isolation

King County, Washington remains largely locked down due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Non-essential businesses are closed, state parks are just starting to reopen for socially distant recreation, and there’s a phased plan for reopening more of the state. There are 6,653 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in King County. Of them, 467 people have died.

Today also marks two months since my company asked its employees to work from home (WFH). I’ve been WFH five days a week since then. Things are about as normal as they can be: my workday now includes lots of text and video chat, remote desktop sessions, and computer-based training modules. I’d like to go back to an office when it’s safe to do so, but I wonder when that’s going to happen. Zillow will allow employees to WFH for the rest of the year and Amazon has allowed WFH through early October for most of its white-collar staff. I expect that even as offices reopen, companies will be more liberal than they have been with respect to WFH policies. That may create a network effect: if many of my coworkers are WFH, then I might as well do so too. It’s also unclear as to how an office will function after reopening. Will I have to wear a mask? Will conference rooms and other common areas be available? Will drinks and snacks be available like they were before? I also wonder, with a great deal of hope, whether the open-plan offices that are common among tech companies will be reduced in density. I would love to see cubicles and offices, which just a few months ago were considered outdated, make a comeback in the interest of reducing health risks to employees.

My only outings are to parks, grocery stores, and occasional takeout places. Picking up a food order feels like I’m waiting for a prescription to be ready. Most of the time I don’t wear a mask outside; I bring one with me and wear it when I go into a store or restaurant. Seattle is a bastion of passive aggression, so nobody has yelled at me yet for not wearing a mask or other perceived breaches of COVID-19 rules; we instead have social media groups for attempts at shaming others.

I’ve been staying active with regular walks and bike rides. I’ve ridden on 21 days in a row and on 30 of the last 31. The city has designated 20 miles of streets as Stay Healthy Streets, including one about 50 feet from my house. On a Stay Healthy Street, through traffic is discouraged and people are encouraged to run, walk, bike, and otherwise be active in the middle of the street. In practice, many residential streets in central and northern Ballard are so devoid of traffic that people already do this, but it’s nice to have an official blessing to do so in more of the city. Ignoring the usual keyboard warrior drama online, much of Seattle is heeding the data-driven and pragmatic advice coming from public officials. I believe that we’re better off because of it.

Travel is important to me and I will resume it when it’s safe to do so. My planned vacation to Copenhagen has been canceled, but I will rebook it. I also want to see family and friends who live elsewhere in the U.S. and I remain confident that I’ll be able to do so later this year. This is an extraordinary challenge for many of us and I will help out however I can, including in arguing for an equitable way to pay for all this relief.