■ Part One
At first, few people were concerned. The emergence of new and nasty viruses is cyclical, and the flu vaccines that most Americans submit to each year are adapted to the strains of influenza virus most prevalent that season. Those first reports of what many non-medical people assumed were just another mutated strain of influenza virus (spoiler alert: it wasn’t) did not seem unduly alarming. China, where the new virus originated, seemed very far away. This perception was quickly proven wrong: the relevant distance between Wuhan, the site of the initial outbreak, and Seattle, where the first case in the United States was reported, is not 7,500 miles. It an 11-hour flight.
My husband and I were in Seattle the weekend that the first patient presented with the first symptoms at a hospital a few miles from our hotel. We went to a crowded music venue, rode in several Uber cars, and stood shoulder-to-shoulder in a packed bar while waiting for a table at a popular restaurant. We browsed through bookstores and shops in Pike Place Market, had drinks in the busy lobby bar of the hotel, and ate brunch in another crowded restaurant. When it was time to return home, we took a filled-to-capacity train back to Portland, a scenic journey of a bit less than 4 hours.