Summer in Seattle usually means people, a lot of people, flocking outdoors the minute the sun peeks out from behind the clouds. They get together at the beach, at parks, on the water and at the flurry of annual outdoor festivals, concerts and other events each summer that we use as excuses to shout and dance shoulder to shoulder with thousands of other people.
After making it through the slog of the winter, many were looking toward summer 2021 as the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel.
With vaccinations, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changing its guidance on wearing masks and Gov. Jay Inslee’s announcement last month that Washington will lift COVID-19 restrictions and reopen completely by June 30, there is hope for a summer that could include, at the very least, the return of seeing the bottom halves of our friends’ faces.
But the epic summer some were looking forward to might be a little less party and a bit more virtual. Despite Inslee’s reopening announcement, many of the big annual summer events remain canceled or have moved online — some for the second year in a row.
Seattle Pride executive director Krystal Marx said that in debating whether or not to hold Pride in person, she and her team watched and waited for months, keeping an eye on CDC guidelines, local guidelines, Seattle permitting and COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
“Our forefront thought for us wasn’t just, ‘Can we have the Pride parade?’ It was, ‘Can we put on an event that’s safe for everyone?’” Marx said. “We know that the LGBTQIA+ community is one of the most marginalized when it comes to health equity. Our first priority was health.” (LGBTQIA+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex and agender/asexual, with the + denoting everything along the gender and sexuality spectrum.)
When Pride organizers decided to keep Pride virtual, Seattle was still in Phase 2 of Inslee’s plan to reopen the state, the CDC was still recommending masks for the fully vaccinated and the city of Seattle wasn’t permitting large events.
Even though all of that has now changed, Marx says she still feels like they made the right call about Seattle Pride.
“The only negative feeling I have right now is that feeling of loneliness I think so many in our community feel, but I still feel like it was the right decision when so many people still aren’t fully vaccinated and haven’t had access to the vaccines until recently,” Marx said. “People stand so close. It is well within 6 feet of each other when they’re at the parade. It just didn’t feel responsible to do something that big that soon.”
Besides the many annual summer events on hold or online this summer, Public Health — Seattle & King County isn’t so keen on the whole “ditch the masks” plan from the CDC, and is recommending people in King County continue to mask up.
The mixed messaging for this summer has some putting away their masks, while others warily keep them on hand; some are disappointed in the prospect of even more virtual events, while others are relieved, saying they’re not quite ready to be in crowds yet anyway.
That’s how local cosplayer Elizabeth Sweet feels. In a typical summer, Sweet would be fresh out of Emerald City Comic Con in March and looking forward to the summer conventions where she could show off the costumes she’s created of fictional characters.
Even though she is fully vaccinated and several of those conventions, including Washington State Summer Con, Rose City Comic Con and the Washington Midsummer Renaissance Faire, are planning to hold in-person events, Sweet says she probably won’t be attending any conferences until Emerald City Comic Con’s new dates in December.
“That’s the soonest I would feel comfortable,” she said. “There’s a sense of uncertainty. There’s no way in my mind that I’m going to these events. I haven’t bought any passes to anything.”
After the past year of missing out on conventions and in-person cosplay opportunities, she has adapted by engaging with social media — taking photos of herself in costume and posting them on Instagram, interacting with other cosplayers online.
This summer, she says, she’ll be looking forward to meeting up with photographers and maybe another cosplayer or two for socially distanced photo shoots.
Compared with the people and parties that mark the usual Seattle summer, last summer was a jumble of fear, isolation and revolution. This one is shaping up so far to land somewhere in the middle — a mix of anxiety and anticipation, hesitation and hope, and, of course, a mix of virtual and some lesser form of in-person events — a sort of summer in limbo.
But limbo doesn’t have to be all bad. (Throw in some skates and music and it’s a party, right?)
As the weather warms and some restrictions ease, many of the usual summer events are adapting in creative ways outdoors, online and in limited capacities.
Several theater organizations are staging plays outdoors, sports stadiums are allowing fans who show proof of vaccination to attend games mask-free and the Gorge Amphitheatre will be hosting at least some concerts this summer. Even online events like this year’s Seattle Pride are finding ways to make virtual attendance more engaging with offerings like virtual booths, home-delivered Pride packages and randomly paired video chats for networking.
Individuals are getting creative, too.
Marlie and Anthony Love, the creators and hosts of “Traveling While Black,” a YouTube channel that highlights their travels around the Pacific Northwest, didn’t stop exploring the region when the pandemic hit. They adapted their travels to include more outdoor exploration rather than events, took shorter trips and took advantage of takeout options at restaurants in the places they visited.
Even with the pandemic-related sacrifices they’ve had to make, the Loves say they’ve been having a lot of fun. Still, they’re both looking forward to the state reopening, which they say will allow them to do longer overnight trips, maybe take their show on the road and host “Traveling While Black” in other cities — but mostly they just want to see crowds of people enjoying themselves again.
Anthony Love says he’s particularly looking forward to Seafair and Bumbershoot whenever they are held in person again, but for now they’ve been focused on smaller towns, events and attractions outside of the Seattle area.
“Before, you could showcase that [an event or attraction] was a popular thing,” said Anthony Love. “Now, some of these places really do look like ghost towns.”
Both transplants from Missouri, the Loves hope things open up again so they can film episodes around Seattle’s neighborhoods and experience a real Fourth of July in Seattle. Marlie Love says she hopes the Canadian border opens up soon so they can film a Vancouver, B.C., episode.
In the meantime, they’ll be taking advantage of the warm weather to keep traveling.
“When the pandemic hit, we were kicking up a good steam and starting to build relationships and we pivoted on the spot. Right now we’re just hoping for the best, but if it does get worse, we’re flexible and versatile enough to make it work,” said Anthony Love. “We’ll pivot again.”
If, as Inslee says, the state opens up 100% on June 30, there will be those who set out to make the most of summer, with or without the annual summer events.
For those who’ll be hanging back, masked and far from large crowds, it may not be the epic summer they might have hoped for after the challenges of the past year, but it’s certainly not the same shut-down, quarantined summer we endured in 2020.
Summer 2021 is shaping up to be its own kind of abnormal.
What are you most looking forward to doing this summer as the state cautiously reopens? Tell us in the comments below!