This story was originally published by High Country News and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.
Before the pandemic, the Rainier Beach Community Center served as a cornerstone of South Seattle civic life, hosting children’s operas, legal clinics, and pancake breakfasts. In 2019, after distant wildfires blanketed the city in hazy, unhealthy air for weeks in both August 2017 and August 2018, the Seattle city government designated it and four other public buildings as community refuges from smoke. The shelters were meant to offer a respite for thousands of Seattleites experiencing homelessness or lacking ventilation systems at home.
Luckily, last summer was mild in Seattle, and the smoke shelters were never used. This summer, however, as August approaches, Washington has already seen above-average wildfire activity. Meanwhile, Seattle has shuttered the community center to curb the spread of COVID-19, and, with cases in the area rising, it may remain closed for some time. Public health officials have been working around-the-clock for months, tracking COVID-19 cases, adapting to new policies, and crafting pandemic messaging for the public, amo... Read more