It isn’t clear, though, where the needed test kits will come from or how they will be distributed. Susan Zeman, a registered nurse at Swedish Hospital in Seattle, told me that the coronavirus has revealed that “American health care doesn’t have surge capacity.”
In Washington State, where the virus has spread largely through “community transmission,” not through contact with travelers abroad, 22 people have died and 162 have tested positive. Matt Thompson, a family physician at the University of Washington who works with the Seattle Flu Study, told me that a key intervention would be to develop a Covid test that people can take at home, like a pregnancy test. On Sunday, the Gates Foundation pledged to fund mass-production of an existing swab-based test, available for home delivery, pickup and processing by a lab at the University of Washington.
Officials here are moving quickly, in the absence of a federal plan. Gov. Jay Inslee has declared a state of emergency, directed all insurers to cover coronavirus-related treatment without co-payments and deductibles, promised to offer free testing to the uninsured, and advised residents 60 years and older to avoid crowds.
Things feel tenser than usual on the streets of Tacoma, where I grew up, and other cities in the Puget Sound area. At the library, I heard a man complain loudly, on his cellphone, about “Chinese carriers” of the virus, while a librarian repeatedly wiped down her work station. On the bus, passengers seem unnerved by coughs and sniffles and general proximity. Ms. Bridges, the Tacoma nurse, told me that she was more uncomfortable with her brother-in-law taking the bus to Seattle than her being at work.
When I visited Ms. Bridges at her home, in south Tacoma, she offered her elbow, the new standard greeting of the region. She was resting up before another week of 12-hour shifts, for her work will continue, as ever. She will commute by Lyft, wear safety equipment as needed, and keep tabs on the coronavirus the way we all do, through internet research and “all the stuff on TV,” she said.
Ms. Bridges is trying to stay focused on being “there for the residents,” and she has no choice but to trust her superiors to act prudently.
One of the Covid-19 deaths in Kirkland was of someone who had been transferred, while asymptomatic, from Life Care Center of Kirkland to a nearby adult family home, possibly contaminating a new facility.