Three Months at Home and a New Crisis Outside

It’s been three months since my company switched most employees to work from home (WFH) daily. King County, Washington just yesterday went to a “modified Phase 1,” or “Phase 1.5,” of Washington’s four-phase recovery plan. Restaurants are already reopening for table service at 50% of outdoor tables and 25% of indoor tables. Barbers can open at 25% of capacity, which is nice as I’m badly in need of a haircut. Much of Washington has moved onto Phase 2 entirely and a few rural counties are on Phase 3. Our recovery from COVID-19 lockdown is proceeding without a significant surge in new cases or deaths. As of yesterday, King County has 8,396 confirmed cases and 566 deaths due to COVID-19. Seattle, whose city data are now broken out on Public Health – Seattle & King County’s COVID-19 dashboard, has 2,197 confirmed cases and 123 deaths.

A new challenge faces the country, and Seattle is not immune from that either: the brutality of violent policing. George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis reopened a painful wound in America’s black community. Seattle, which is about 8% African-American, has such a bad record with policing in communities of color that in 2012 the city entered a Consent Decree with the U.S. Department of Justice to require reforms in police oversight. Seattle Police’s behavior during the last couple of weeks has also come under scrutiny at a time when the city had been trying to get the Consent Decree lifted. Last weekend, the police provoked and corraled protesters downtown with limited ways out. Mayor Jenny Durkan declared a 5:00 PM curfew for the city at 4:45 PM last Saturday (I received an alert of it on my phone at 5:03) and many transit services quickly suspended service into and out of downtown, trapping protesters in place. During a pandemic of a disease that affects the respiratory system, Seattle Police used tear gas and pepper spray on multiple nights, affecting some residents who were already sheltering inside their own homes. The city later banned one form of tear gas from being used at protests for 30 days, although unconfirmed reports state that the “ban” coincides with the city running out of the gas.

Most of the early protests were on Capitol Hill, my old Seattle neighborhood, where I’ve seen many marches and events, although none broken up as violently as last week’s. I spent so much time and attention watching a multiplexed protest stream on Wednesday night that I felt exhausted on Thursday and took a day off work. (I stayed home, as I would have done anyway.) I’ve also paid attention to events local and national in which people are coming to terms with the inequitable treatment of black people in America, even in virtuous-looking places like Seattle. Inspired by two friends, I set up my first donation-matching campaign, dedicating up to $10,000 to The Bail Project, the Equal Justice Initiative, and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. As I write this I’m less than $300 from reaching that match amount. I’m very grateful to the friends who have helped out.

WFH continues to be relatively uneventful, although news events are definitely cutting into my productive time at home. My company hosted a publicly viewable conversation on “Injustice and Race” earlier in the week with Mellody Hobson of Ariel Investments, Soledad O’Brien, and LL Cool J. I also had two in-person doctor’s appointments this week, which normally wouldn’t be newsworthy, but I was very excited to have a couple of somewhat normal events on my calendar. My biking streak is up to 52 consecutive days as of yesterday. This last week has been mentally exhausting but I’m still feeling physically well. Without access to an office kitchen full of snacks, I’m holding steady at about 7 pounds below my pre-WFH weight.

I’m running out of superlatives to describe this year and I won’t fall into the trap of blind hope that some good is spontaneously coming out of our crises. Times are terrible for a lot of us. Now would be a great time to do some good things for your fellow human beings. Listen. Volunteer. Donate. Be kind. We will get through all this.