Seattleites woke up to a blanket of snow on Dec. 26, kicking off days of freezing temperatures.
According to the National Weather Service, several areas including Sea-Tac, Seattle, Bellingham, Quillayute and Hoquiam all experienced record-breaking low temperatures.
Mayor Jenny Durkan announced on Christmas Eve that the city would open warming shelters for vulnerable people and signed an executive order authorizing incentives of at least $150 for frontline workers including human service workers called on to contend with the freezing temperatures and risk of the Omicron COVID-19 variant. The Low Income Housing Institute also opened a warming shelter in Tacoma.
On Dec. 28, the Seattle Public Library announced it would open 12 branches with limited hours, but that 15 remained closed because of the weather. Most locations opened at noon, but all closed at 6 p.m.
Warming centers are critical for people living outside; hypothermia is a potentially lethal medical condition where the body loses heat faster than it can create it.
“After a year of unprecedented challenges, Seattle is facing a long duration of dangerously cold temperatures and snow. At the City, our city employees are starting 24/7 shifts to prepare for ice, snow, and freezing temperatures,” Durkan said in a press release. “For this winter weather emergency, our crews and employees are available to keep our community safe and warm, but if you don’t need to travel or gather, please don’t, as we’re facing dual emergencies of COVID-19 and freezing temperatures.”
Seattle officials recommended that people avoid driving unless absolutely necessary due to icy conditions. Parking fees were also waived on Dec. 27 and time limits were not enforced “unless specifically stated.” Similarly, garbage and solid waste pickup was canceled due to icy conditions.
The snowfall caused King County Metro to activate its Emergency Snow Network, restricting active bus routes to roughly 60 routes that service high-travel areas and avoid large hills. Fare collection is not enforced when the Emergency Snow Network is activated due to an ordinance passed by the King County Council in 2019.
President Joe Biden invoked emergency relief legislation to get COVID-19 testing to areas in need on Dec. 27.
State, tribal and territorial governments may ask for direct assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) to set up a coronavirus testing site, according to a new federal order. FEMA will fund the entire cost of the testing.
The goal is to get COVID-19 testing to the “places that need it most,” according to the memorandum published on the White House website.
Americans have struggled to access at-home testing kits, which look for antigens rather than the more precise PCR tests. Biden promised the week prior to purchase 500 million of the rapid COVID tests.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also announced new recommendations for people who have tested positive for COVID-19 but are asymptomatic, cutting the isolation period down from 10 days to five, followed by another five days of wearing masks around others. That’s because the majority of COVID-19 transmission happens a couple of days before people feel symptoms and between two and three days after, according to the organization.
The CDC also recommended a similar quarantine and masking period for people who are vaccinated but have not received the booster shot within six months of their last Pfizer BioNTech or Moderna shots or within two months of their Johnson & Johnson jab.
The distinction between isolation and quarantine is a technical one — people are asked to isolate if they have a confirmed case of the virus and quarantine if they have been exposed or come into close contact with someone who has contracted it.
Tiny house village expands
The Low Income Housing Institute and Port of Seattle doubled the size of the tiny house village at their Interbay site.
The village opened in 2017 with 46 tiny houses and opened an additional 30, which the organization celebrated on Dec. 16. The site can now offer shelter to up to 90 people experiencing homelessness.
The expansion also includes a second kitchen and hygiene trailer. The additional homes were built by volunteers.
“The Port of Seattle is pleased to partner with LIHI, the City of Seattle, and the community to help address the homelessness crisis in our region,” said Stephanie Bowman, a Port of Seattle commissioner. “Expanding the village to make room for more tiny homes helps even more people get the shelter and help they need so they can transition successfully into permanent housing.”
Tiny homes have been one prong of the homelessness response in Seattle and the region. The homes allow people experiencing homelessness the privacy and security of a locked door and their own space within a community. Detractors of the model have referred to them as “sheds.”
The Seattle City Council approved funding for new tiny home villages, but ran into potential resistance from the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, the new organization that will take on contracts and planning about the homelessness response throughout King County in the coming year.
Read more of the Dec. 29, 2021-Jan. 4, 2022 issue.