A hush falls over Seattle
Long gone is Seattle’s maddening morning commute. Popular beaches and parks sit emptied out and blocked off. Vibrant neighborhood main streets, hushed.
Governor Jay Inslee’s stay-home order has suspended city life as usual, for now.
The order allows select activities to continue and essential workers to stay on the job, while all non-essential businesses faced a deadline of midnight Wednesday to close up shop until at least April 6.
KUOW reporters checked in around town, from a careful distance, to see how people were adjusting to the new rules.
The scene at Golden Gardens beach last week was overrun with kids, people playing volleyball or gathered in groups having bonfires. But on Tuesday afternoon, a day after the order took effect, hardly anyone was around except for a few people walking in pairs.
One couple took photos of the caution tape blocking off the playground.
Everyone seemed to be following the physical distancing rules, especially Ari Santander who was swimming in the frigid Puget Sound waters - without a wetsuit.
How’s that for extreme social distancing?
Santander’s personal motto: “When all else fails, swim the sea.”
In the South Park neighborhood, around lunchtime on Wednesday, the main street was busy with traffic but hardly anyone was outside: just a few people walking their dogs or waiting for the bus.
At the neighborhood’s main park, the wide, open field was deserted. No soccer, no baseball.
Outside the SeaMar Community Clinic, one woman waited in her car, wearing a face mask. The medical director said they’re still seeing patients and have limited testing for COVID, about 20 test kits a day.
Many of the businesses still open have Spanish names, like El Buen Sabor, a food truck that sells pupusas. The generator rumbled in the background as one construction worker ordered a burrito to go.
At another convenience store, our reporter found a small stash of toilet paper selling for 99 cents a roll. (She bought a couple after striking out at two grocery stores the day before.)
Down the street, the place with the most action in this neighborhood was the Chevron gas station, where a different taco truck parked, and construction workers stood six feet from each other to pick up their orders.
Downtown, Pike Place Market
At the Pike Place Market, many essential food shops plan to stay open, including Sosio’s Fruit and Produce. Owner Mike Osborn said at his stall, he’s trying to help the sellers who can’t legally stay open and is now selling bouquets for the flower merchants.
“There’s no rules down here – we don’t play with any rules,” Osborn said. “So we will figure it out. There’s no black and white. Everything lives in a gray area.”
Still, customers aren’t exactly lining up. There’s plenty of room for social distancing now.
“You can come down and have a quarter acre all to yourself,” Osborn chuckled.
Just up the street, the convention center is also empty.
Starting Thursday, it will be closed until further notice.
A security guard here likened the scene inside to a homeless camp. A dozen people sat alone on benches, several feet apart from each other.
One man who didn’t want to give his name said he’s worried about losing access to the bathroom here.
“When people have to really use the restroom, and they have nowhere else to go, they’re going to be doing it outside,” he said.
Outside, businesses are closing down. Terry Kim just laid off ten people at La Creperie Voila.
“I don’t have any option except to close the shop, as of today,” Kim said.
The late author Jane Jacobs wrote that for cities to be safe "there must be eyes upon the street, eyes belonging to those we might call the natural proprietors of the street."
Today, downtown Seattle’s streets - and others across the city - are mostly empty.
What continues on are the small construction crews working shoulder to shoulder in cramped work spaces.
And others who step out to get some exercise, catch the bus, walk the dog, buy groceries or make their way to and from the essential jobs that keep the city running.
Liz Jones produced this story for the web.