Noa Roxborough is a Grade 10 student at Lakeside School in Seattle.
Seattle has become a ghost town. Our schools have shut their doors. Our libraries and businesses have hung signs that read “Closed indefinitely” on windows that reveal dark, silent interiors.
When I run around Green Lake (in the centre of the city, five minutes from my house), the usual hustle and bustle of friendly faces all getting in their daily exercise has petered out to a few brave – or foolish – souls like myself. We all give each other a wide berth.
As in Canada, grocery stores here have been emptied of canned goods, toilet paper, soap and hand sanitizer. We’re even running out of ice cream! I just earned my driver’s licence, and the ubiquitous traffic I’ve been trying to get used to has quieted; this makes my mother more inclined to let me drive, but I don’t have anywhere to go.
And on Monday, the Governor officially ordered all restaurants and entertainment facilities to close. As a sophomore in high school who has lived most of her life here, it is jarring to see my familiar world power down. We’ve all withdrawn into our partly self-enforced, partly government-ordered bubbles of isolation.
All things considered, however, I’m one of the lucky students. I attend a private school where everyone is ensured access to technology and the internet, so we’ve all moved to a “remote learning” plan and have continued with our curriculum. But this is a challenge, too: we’re stuck staring at our screens all day, communication with friends and teachers reduced to texts, e-mails and the occasional video chat. We’ve shut our doors to the outside world and moved our lives online.
The juxtaposition of these two environments is striking: one suddenly gone quiet, the other exploding with information. My friends and I are struggling to cope with this huge shift as news outlets report on a cascade of new outbreaks, safety measures and statistics shifting by the hour. I won’t be allowed to return to school, to my friends and my routine, until at least April 24. All athletics are cancelled, which means I don’t even have soccer or tennis to distract me from the ever-worsening situation.
The jokes and memes and casual comments about COVID-19 that circulated at school and online were entertaining for a while – for us teens, it was a way of coping in a world changing so quickly that the only way to keep up was to pretend we weren’t barrelling toward the biggest public health crisis my generation has ever faced.
But the jokes aren’t funny any more – not when we’re supposed to keep a distance of six feet from others (a new measure put in place by the King County Health Department) and gatherings of more than 10 people are discouraged. A friend has invited me to her house with a few others to watch a movie – we just want to have fun, live our lives like teenagers do. How can we do that when we are paranoid about washing our hands, not touching our faces and staying six feet apart? To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure my mother will let me go anyway.
And the even bigger issue? These protective measures are seemingly being put in place far too late. Instead of containing the novel coronavirus before it could spread like wildfire across the United States, we’re now stuck chasing it down, trying to halt its progress in one city only to find it has already found its way to another. How did this happen? The federal and state governments were slow to react. Instead of ordering more test kits so that plenty would be available when the virus hit our country, President Donald Trump told everyone to stay calm. While it is true that staying calm is crucial, it seems more should have been done.
The situation in Seattle is spiralling quickly. There still aren’t enough tests here for everyone who needs one, and working parents are struggling to find last-minute child care for children whose schools have abruptly closed. A local daytime senior centre that I work at has been shut down, making me concerned that their mental well-being will deteriorate without the daily connection they thrive on. Seniors are already vulnerable to social isolation. I feel helpless.
I read that several Canadian provinces have preemptively closed their public schools and universities. While that may be disorienting for students and parents, I find it encouraging. My hope for Canada, where my grandparents, aunts, uncle and cousins all live, is that its leaders and citizens have learned from the mistakes the United States has made.
I think I speak for many when I say it is an isolating and scary experience being disconnected from our lives in so many ways. I’m living my life online, lonely and aching for normalcy again but trying to keep faith that the adults will find a solution, that they’ll figure it all out. For now, here in my city, all we can do is wait.