Editor’s note: The photographs in this story were taken in September and October 2020, before the newest wave of COVID restrictions were implemented in Washington state.
KISSES ON THE CHEEK. Snuggling a loved one’s newborn baby. Bustling office spaces. Big wedding celebrations. Dancing with strangers at a packed concert.
Everyday interactions many of us took for granted now look and feel so far away months into the COVID-19 pandemic. Social distancing, safety protocols and a collective effort to “flatten the curve” altered how many of us work, socialize, celebrate special moments, grieve the loss of loved ones and care for ourselves and our families.
For Isabel Kingsbury, 12, it has been “hard not to see classmates” during online classes and when her Seattle United soccer practices were canceled in the spring. She impressively juggled a soccer ball in early October, the first week officials approved the resumption of youth soccer games and scrimmages in Seattle, after practicing only in small groups since July. It “makes me really happy,” she says, her eyes lighting up. “It’s something I love to do.”
In September and October, before the new wave of COVID restrictions, I looked for opportunities to photograph how community members were finding and maintaining connection during the pandemic. During a time when many people are struggling with anxiety, depression and isolation, sharing stories of people safely connecting felt valuable to share, like bursts of sunshine when it feels like it is raining bad news and there’s an uncertain winter ahead. While this collection of images doesn’t reflect all experiences, the following photos share just a small window into the creativity, resilience and determination of our community to stay connected in a time that has forced us apart.
Tiffany Mason, founder of Roll Around Seatown, wearing dark blue, skates with Meg Kapousouz. After 36 years of “nonstop skating” in Washington state and around the world, Tiffany Mason founded Roll Around Seatown in 2019 with the intention of giving back to the community and supporting “the culture of roller skating.”
“The Seattle skate community has existed a long time and is thriving,” she says. “I felt like something was missing from the indoor skating community that I was a part of for decades. My goal was to build the community and to include an outdoor presence.”
When Seattle parks reopened this spring, Mason established the weekly social skates at Judkins Park, where community members travel as long as two hours to attend. The sessions sometimes feature local DJs. Mason is cognizant about COVID safety protocols and asks people to “mask up and roll up.” “The pandemic has introduced a ton of new skaters to skating,” she says. “The truth is, roller skating has always been huge and relevant in the Black community.”
Mason talked about the documentary “8 Wheels and Some Soul Brotha’ Music,” where the Black community protested to gain access to roller rinks in U.S. cities during the mid-20th century. Before the pandemic, many roller rinks had been closing, which were safe and positive spaces for the Black community for decades, she says.
“This is something that should not be going away or extinct. It’s just too positive for the community.” Mason says she hopes the enthusiasm around Roll Around Seatown could lead to a partnership between the City of Seattle or donors to create a dedicated outdoor space — with lights and a roof — that can be used year-round. “I’m a part of a culture that is incredible, filled with mind-blowing talent, swagger, originality, physicality and technical skills that are second to none,” she says.
(All images of the Roll Around Seatown group were taken in October, before Washington’s new wave of COVID restrictions in November).
Crowds watch “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” at Paseo, Sodo’s drive-in movie theater. Owner Ryan Santwire wanted to offer a setting for community members to “have fun and do things together while also being safe and social-distanced,” says manager Aly Reymore. Friend groups from different households can call to reserve spaces near each other, order dinner and watch the movie from different vehicles. Reymore says watching a movie in a socially distanced group offers a sense of normalcy and being together during a time when many feel isolated.
At Holy Family Roman Catholic Church in White Center, more than 200 First Communions, and a number of funerals and weddings, were delayed this year due to the pandemic, says Deacon Abel Magaña Sainz. Many families in their congregation and local churches lost loved ones to COVID-19, as well as jobs. Magaña Sainz says that many kids and teenagers are suffering from depression. When socially distanced Mass resumed this summer — with safety precautions, including temperature checks, hand-sanitizing stations and social distancing — congregants said they deeply appreciated receiving the Holy Communion and praying together again. Magaña Sainz went three months without Communion during the start of the pandemic. Taking it for the first time “was something really joyful for me,” he says. “It made me cry.” The First Communion was held with safety precautions, including temperature checks, hand-sanitizing stations and social distancing.
Kayla K., 28, and her boyfriend, Matt M., 34, hold hands at Peace Arch Historical State Park on the border of the United States and Canada in Blaine.
Since May 24, the couple has connected nearly every weekend at the park, a place where Kayla, of Seattle, and Matt, of Abbotsford, British Columbia, can legally meet after the border’s closure to nonessential travel. (They asked for their last names not to be used due to fears of heightened border security in Canada.)
They met on the dating app Hinge, and have adapted many of the important moments that new couples share. During the week, they use video chat to have dates, exercise, cook, shop online and watch church together. At the park, their shade tent becomes a “second home,” where they bring their favorite cooked dishes and share things that are “better said in person,” she says. Kayla’s parents drove from Michigan and met Matt at the border this summer, an important shared milestone in their relationship. They celebrated their one-year anniversary in September.
In early October, state health officials and the governor’s office approved a return-to-play plan for low- to moderate-risk youth sports leagues to resume games and scrimmages after months of practicing in small groups.
Dr. Jonathan Drezner, of the University of Washington Medicine’s Center for Sports Cardiology, Seattle United soccer club and Washington Youth Soccer, proposed modifications for sports safety guidelines in September. Drezner developed safety protocols for Seattle United and monitored the teams through the summer. He found that small-group youth soccer training, when distanced without masks and with certain safety protocols, did not promote new cases of COVID-19 infections.
Seattle United’s Kyle Rodeheaver says team sports are an outlet for players not just physically, but also socially and emotionally. “Instead of feeling isolated at home in a bubble, this is a huge boost to their psychological and emotional development as young people in a time where they don’t get to socialize like we are normally used to.”
Rodeheaver says state guidelines have changed several times from October to November, and currently players are able to practice as a full team — instead of in small groups — and players are required to wear masks full-time. With the new November restrictions, games and scrimmages are no longer allowed.
Talaina Maafala, 14, distributes food with the Pacific Islander Community Association of Washington in collaboration with Marshallese Women’s Association, FSM Community Association and First Chuukese WA Women Association and Malua Samoan Congregational Christian Church in Kent. After school each Thursday, a group of teenagers has come together to help distribute boxes of produce, dairy, meat and nonperishable items to 500 to 600 families in King County.
“I met a lot of new people when I started volunteering here,” says Maafala. “It makes me feel great. When I grow up, I want to be a pediatrician, and with this I get a head start with helping others.”
The UCLA Center for Health Policy Research reports that Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders have had some of the highest COVID-19 case and death rates compared by race and ethnicity in Washington state. PICA-WA executive director and founder Joseph Seia says the pandemic has resulted in substantial job loss and unemployment claims for Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders. Some families from the Marshall Islands, Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia (who can legally reside and work in Washington through the Compacts of Free Association) have experienced barriers accessing public benefits during the pandemic, due to complications with I-94 requirements. Seia says housing insecurity, homelessness and food insecurity are also major concerns coming into winter.
“A lot of folks felt a sense of powerlessness,” Seia said. One way to work toward community solutions is to “activate the leadership of our young people.”
During October, the LanDforms dance collective hosted “Cooped-Up: We’re Still Inside,” a second set of socially distanced, live dance performances. Listening to an original sound score, audiences participate in a scavenger hunt in vehicles to watch dancers perform on their porches, windows, garages or even apple orchards throughout Seattle.
The curbside performances were first created this spring in response to Washington’s stay-at-home order. Co-director Danielle Doell says that early in the pandemic, the company witnessed wonderful digital art, but realized LanDforms is rooted in live performance. Doell, Ari Kaufman and Leah Crosby created “Cooped-Up” to share the “hopelessness that performing artists are feeling at this time,” Doell says, and also to “find solutions for art-making.” Doell says the goal is to “represent a diverse group of voices” regarding their pandemic experiences.
“It’s a bizarre, tender and touching moment. It’s so rare to have these in-person live arts experiences. It’s totally bizarre for one carload of people to be at your home or your backyard. It’s quite sad, too.”
LanDforms, which describes its work as “making daydreams,” believes in the power of in-person experiences during a time when physical distance is needed for safety. “I think it all boils down to empathy, and kinesthetic empathy,” Doell says. “If you are watching a body move, you can experience that movement in your body.”
Bill Batts, 93, talks with his wife, Lois Batts, 90, by phone and through a window at The Kenney retirement community in West Seattle. For two decades, Bill and Lois Batts lived together at The Kenney. The couple met more than 60 years ago while sharing a car ride to a square dance in Seattle. Three kids and numerous grandchildren later, fellow retirees call Bill and Lois “The Lovebirds.”
About a year ago, Lois was transferred to The Kenney’s memory care unit. Every day, Bill would visit her for several hours. When the pandemic started this spring, the only way Bill could safely visit her was through a window.
“It was very difficult, because we used to go for daily walks,” he says. “I like to walk around holding her hand. It makes me feel sad.”
Lois can’t always keep a conversation, due to living with memory loss, but often they sing old standards together, like “You are my Sunshine.” She often calls him by the nickname “Mr. Bill.” The visits, he says, continue to be the “thing I have to live for.”
Harborview Medial Center cultural mediator Rose Cano, also a diabetes navigator, converses with Ignacio Guerrero, 64, in the Immanuel Community Services parking lot. Ignacio Guerrero, who has lived outside for about 30 years, spent months in Harborview’s medical respite, recovering from surgery caused by complications from diabetes. Guerrero, who struggles with uncontrolled blood sugar, says “it hurts” that many of the places for meals or to rest downtown, like the library, are now closed.
“People who lived unsheltered, it’s hard during good times. … During this time of COVID, with reduced services, it’s even harder to find good nutrition,” says Shawna McMahon, executive director at Immanuel Community Services, which expanded its hygiene, food bank and meal services this spring.
Conversing in Spanish, Guerrero and Rose Cano reviewed his glucometer, talked about his upcoming medical appointment and went over the signs of hypoglycemia and what to do if he has dangerously low blood sugar. Cano helps her patients — some of whom work in precarious jobs or live outside or are single parents — navigate the healthcare system and take care of their health during the pandemic.
Jim Rasmussen, Steve Lorentzen, Keith Kelly, Mike MacKinnon and Pete Fotopoulos drink morning coffee outside the West Seattle Thriftway. The coffee klatch moved its 15-year tradition of meeting inside the supermarket’s cafeteria to the parking lot. Some of the friends, who are mostly retirees, meet for a walk beforehand. Sometimes they play pickleball in the afternoon or help one another with house projects. “It gives me a chance to meet other people, talk about what’s going on in the world,” says Lorentzen. “Some of us live alone. It’s good to have people to call very good friends and who you know will always be there for you.”
Doves fly after Matthew Condon and Jenni Styrk’s wedding ceremony outside her parents’ West Seattle home in late September. The couple originally planned a 140-person wedding, but due to the pandemic, modified plans to get married on Jenni’s parents’ outdoor balcony, surrounded by a small number of friends and family. All participants tested for COVID-19 before the wedding. During the ceremony, a small group of masked, extended family members surprised the couple by cheering from across the street, some holding signs. From afar, they watched as the newly married couple released two doves, symbolizing the bride and groom’s new journey together, and then 16 doves, representing their friends’ and families’ love and support. Michael McAndrews, owner of White Dove Release, says when the doves joined together in the sky, it symbolized the “uniting of families.” He says it’s an honor to be with community members during the good times and bad, especially during a year that has been challenging for many.
When the pandemic hit this spring, Artemis Peacocke juggled multiple family emergencies, including a sick husband, a broken-down car and increased job insecurity due to working in the food service industry.
“Skating saved summer 2020 for me,” she says. “I never feel so free as when I’m gliding on eight wheels.”
In June, Peacocke and Naima Pai founded Seattle Skates, a socially distanced, masked roller-skating group where participants can “be safe while enjoying movement and connecting with other people.” For Pai and many attendees, meeting new people and learning something new during the pandemic have been important outlets.
“I’ve heard from a lot of people that skating is like therapy for them,” says Pai.
This summer, they created meetups throughout the city where community members from all races, ages, gender identities, body types and abilities could learn how to skate and exercise together.
“I want everyone to feel welcome and included,” says Peacocke. “It’s a great way to heal through movement.”
With many newer skaters, Peacocke and Pai make it a point to celebrate falling with cheers and claps instead of asking, “Are you OK?” They say daring to try new moves encourages the mindset that falling is part of learning and growth. For the co-founders, Seattle Skates helped them find strength, community and a feeling they can accomplish anything. “When I’m skating, I literally feel invincible,” says Pai.
The Seattle Skates group stopped meetups after Washington’s newest COVID restrictions in November and plans to continue when it’s safe.