The Poison Air is Back

Seattle has heavily polluted air with fine particulates (PM2.5) more than triple the maximum safe levels. Wildfires pose no direct danger to Seattle, but they’re emitting so much smoke that there is an eerie absence of light in the city for the first time in a couple of summers. I also have no N95 masks left at home — although I’m pretty sure there’s one in my inaccessible office desk drawer — so I ended my daily biking streak last Thursday after 148 days with a ride of 4 miles or longer. The poisoned air has caused some businesses to close, has prompted Seattle Parks and Recreation to close all parks in the city, and has also caused closures of some outdoor drive-through COVID-19 testing sites. A newsletter from the city advised residents that cloth masks do not block PM2.5 but should still be worn to limit the spread of COVID-19. N95 masks, which block 95% of PM2.5, should be reserved for medical personnel. (It’s a moot point; what few N95 and KN95 masks are sold online are wildly expensive, poorly rated, or both.) That leaves me mostly homebound with even less to do than in the previous six months.

As of earlier today, Public Health — Seattle & King County’s COVID-19 dashboard shows 20,931 confirmed cases in the county and 743 people have died. Confirmed case rates have been declining for over a month and we have recorded single-digit daily death counts since mid-May. King County remains in Phase 2 of the state’s four-phase “Safe Start Washington” reopening process, but all progress through phases has been halted since July 28.

Despite the dozens of people I saw eating and drinking on restaurant patios yesterday night, my neighborhood is falling silent once again. Pedestrians and cyclists have dwindled, outdoor gatherings have fallen off, and I’m finding myself in search of new distractions: professional sports, speedruns of awful video games, and my own awfully slow runs of good video games have been good time fillers. I also took a few weeks off of Facebook and Twitter after finally losing my patience for the hatred and negativity that these sites willingly host. After I reactivated my accounts, I went through every account and unfollowed about 80% of my Twitter follows and left more than half of my Facebook friends, pages, and groups. I had allowed myself to slip; in the office I had been good about not checking these news feeds, but at home I fell back into my old habits, and the result wasn’t good for my already wobbly wellbeing. In addition to sharply reducing social content, I’ve promoted Feedly to my phone’s home screen to encourage myself to consume more well-written longer-format articles. Feedly includes only one small text ad in its feeds and, more importantly, it doesn’t encourage me to follow ever more content to make me ever more “engaged” (i.e., angry) as Twitter and Facebook do.

I could really use a vacation. Since permanent work from home began more than six months ago, I’ve only taken a couple of floating holidays in March — staying in town both times — and a couple of sick days when I was feeling mentally overwhelmed. If atmospheric conditions improve soon I’d like to do a short trip to some place nearby like Bellingham or Anacortes. There’s something really unfulfilling about a stay-at-home vacation or mental health day when I sit in the same chair at the same desk as I do when I work.

I’m grateful for the love and support I’ve received from friends and family, whether in person or virtually. Without tempting fate, we’re one earthquake shy of hitting for the disastrous cycle this year, and more than a quarter remains to be lived. Optimism gets me through my days. Right now I could use an assist from Mother Nature.