A new role, amid more dramatic containment measures

Today won’t be much different for me. It will be very different for many of my hard-working WDRB colleagues. Without going into specifics, I’ve never seen a workplace more dramatically and quickly transform than this television station has over the past week.

A sizable portion of the WDRB newsroom, the largest TV newsroom in Kentucky, has been moved out. Remote editing stations for video have been set up. The newscast has been revamped – without a regular sportscast until the current crises abates, or sports come back. Let’s hope both happen sooner than later.

On a personal note, my job changes just a bit. My time will be split between news and sports, which isn’t completely unheard of for me. It will, however, skew toward news for the first time in my career, and away from sports. I’m also, like many, working outside of the newsroom. I’m used to working remotely. As a columnist for The Courier-Journal, I’d go days (occasionally weeks) between visits to the office at 6th & Broadway. Rick Bozich and I will keep writing, we’ll shoot videos from home and elsewhere. We’ll provide podcasts.

Having said that, let’s take a look at what happened in the past 24 hours, which any other day would’ve been one of the remarkable news days in my lifetime, but in light of recent events was just another day of radical change. It was supposed to be NCAA Selection Sunday. Instead of filling out brackets, Americans are being urged to hunker down as the COVID-19 virus is expected to lay siege to many communities.

1). FIFTY OR FEWER. The Center for Disease Control Sunday night issued a remarkable guidance document. It recommends, “that for the next 8 weeks, organizers (whether groups or individuals) cancel or postpone in-person events that consist of 50 people or more throughout the United States.”

This is a life-changing directive, at least for the next couple of months. As I wrote about yesterday in discussing the 1918 flu pandemic in Louisville and elsewhere, mass gatherings were the biggest culprit in its spread, and they were the primary focus of city and health officials.

The CDC could’ve made that number smaller. It could’ve said 25 (in fact, Massachusetts has prohibited gatherings of 25 or more). Its intent, however, was to convey the seriousness of avoiding large gatherings, where possible. The directive does not include schools, universities or businesses.

What this likely means for Louisville is that school won’t resume until well into May, if then. It means that the sporting calendar is deeply altered (the NBA, ESPN reported Sunday night, is expecting a three-month stoppage). The Kentucky Derby likely will be postponed sometime this week, and the Derby Festival as we know it most likely is lost.

Regardless, we should be prepared that these restrictions will last longer than just a couple of weeks.

2). NEW YORK RESTRICTS RESTAURANTS AND BARS. Nearly as unthinkable was the decision of New York City to shut down one of the nation’s largest and most thriving restaurant industries, except for take-out orders.

The city, which is days away from a major expected increase in COVID-19 sickness, took the step to stop mass gatherings. Maybe it will help solve a health problem. It does create a human problem, in terms of people who could lose jobs and livelihoods and businesses. Think about all those people, and you start to understand the cost of the predicament in which the nation now finds itself.

3). CLOSE TO HOME. Kentucky governor Andy Beshear said Sunday that unless reports of crowding into restaurants and bars diminish, he may be forced to take the step of closing those establishments or greatly restricting them in Kentucky. Meanwhile, the governor himself was tested for COVID-19 after being exposed to someone who tested positive. He tested negative. University of Louisville president Neeli Bendapudi, Louisville mayor Greg Fischer and Rep. John Yarmuth also are in self-imposed isolation for the same reason, awaiting test results.

“This weekend, we saw — in some instances — hundreds of people going into one bar or one club,” Beshear said during a news conference Sunday. “We are asking people to make major sacrifices in this state.”

Citing the decision of Ohio’s governor to order all of the state’s restaurants and bars to close by 9 p.m. Sunday night, Beshear said, “If we cannot show responsible practices in how we social distance, then I will be forced to do the same. . . . We have to make sure that these efforts work. And if you go out and get in a small place with 100-plus people, you frustrate those efforts.”

4). FULL STOP. All right, it’s time to take a breath. This news is heavy. It’s a really hard thing. Some people I know can’t believe what is happening, they don’t believe the virus is real. They think the media is making too much of it. Sometimes, I agree. There is no need to hype this story. The real thing is compelling enough. More on that in just a moment.

Still, the bottom line is that most of us are being asked to do some very simple things. Sometimes when a team is having trouble, the coach gathers the players in practice and goes all the way back to the fundamentals, trying to get them to focus on the very basic things.

For us, right now, the fundamentals are these: Don’t go into big crowds. Wash our hands. Stay home as much as possible and stay a safe distance, six feet at least, from others when you go out. That, really, is about it. Simple. It’s not forever. It’s just for a short time. At the heart of all this is not to knowingly do anything that would make someone else sick. The flu might not kill you. Probably won’t, statistically speaking. But it might kill someone.

The financial hardships are far more complicated, but just as big a worry as any virus for a great many. But this pandemic getting worse is not going to make those things get better. Especially if the mass gatherings force government officials to enact a closure of restaurants or other businesses.

If people will remain level-headed and engage in smart, safe and — if they can manage it — generous, behavior, more issues can be averted. This threat is a test of whether people in this country will do that.

5). GROCERS ARE NOT CLEANED OUT, the big headline in Louisville’s Sunday newspaper notwithstanding. They have been hit pretty hard by panic-buying and just general stockpiling, which we’ve all done a bit of. I spoke with a half-dozen people who went to the grocery on Saturday. They experienced long lines, but none experienced what they would have described as an inability to get what they wanted or needed.

The fact is, this nation is short of surgical masks and COVID-19 test kits and ventilators and hospital beds. We are not short on food, or water.

The nation’s largest suppliers told the New York Times on Sunday that the supply chain, though taxed, remains intact

Nor are we going to run out of toilet paper. The Times explained that the panic-buying and hoarding of some – and sheer opportunistic buying of others – has put a strain on the U.S. supply. But most retailers are able to restock in a few days. 

6). GROCERY HOURS ADJUSTING. Kroger stores in the Louisville area announced Sunday that they will be open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., beginning today. Walmart is open 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. And Trader Joe’s has adjusted its hours, opening at 9 a.m. and closing at 7 p.m. These changes will help stores restock, and clean. Both Oxmoor and the Mall St. Matthews have adopted new hours, from noon to 7 Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday.

7). THANKS SO MUCH TO J. ROBERT MOORE, who wrote to me regarding my column Sunday on the 1918 “Spanish” flu pandemic. 

“My great grandfather Joseph Fowler, MD was superintendent of the Louisville Hospital during that time. My grandmother literally grew up in the hospital where she met my grandfather Roy H. Moore, MD who was a Resident there in the early 1910s. The hospital shown on the postcard was actually replaced by a new nearly $1,000,000 General Hospital which he designed and was completed in 1914. This was the ” old ” General Hospital replaced by U of L in the 1970s. Considered very modern for the time, it helped to cope with the crisis. All the nursing staff lived in the hospital as well. You can Google Louisville General Hospital history and find an unpublished thesis on its history from the early 1800s to 1935. 

“The ‘Spanish’ flu killed very quickly, and there were no medications then.

“My brother is a fifth-generation graduate of U of L Med School. My grandfather practiced urology in Louisville at the same office in the Republic Building for 55 years. His father and grandfather were graduates of U of L Med School and its predecessor. My uncle Roy H. Moore, Jr., MD, was a leading surgeon in town after serving with the 326 Army Medical Hospital Unit assigned to the 101st Airborne Division in WW II.”

8). I WATCHED MOST OF THE Democratic debate between Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden Sunday night. I will say, debates are better when they are two-player games, three tops. They also are enhanced by removing the studio audience.

Biden scored on Sanders after the Vermont senator said that the U.S. badly needs a universal, single-payer health system. Biden responded that (coronavirus-ravaged) Italy isn’t faring too well under a universal single-payer system at the moment. On the other side, with Biden, if I’d decided to take a drink every time I heard the phrase, “I’m the guy that . . .” Well, let’s just say I would’ve tested positive for Corona.

9). JCPS HAS AN EMERGENCY FOOD PLAN for students who need meals. From 10 to 1 each day there are 45 pickup points, one meal per child in the car when picked up. Click here for more information and a list of pick-up spots.

10). FINALLY THIS. On Saturday, I talked to Bellarmine coach Scott Davenport about the hiring of Rick Pitino at Iona College. After that, we chatted for a moment about his team’s season that had just ended. Davenport had been in his office just that morning, and when he looked down, he saw some things that moved him. His team would’ve been playing in the NCAA Division II Tournament on Saturday.

“I looked on my desk and right there was a practice plan, our shootaround, our itinerary for the day, pregame meal,” Davenport said. “And it’s a hard thing, and I hurt for our players. This is what you work all year for. But we also work all year to become better teammates and friends and people and citizens. And this group of guys is all of those things. I couldn’t be prouder of them.”

I told Davenport that earlier in the day I’d looked back through the clippings to see what I’d been doing 10 years ago on that date. In the paper from Saturday’s date in 2010, I found a story about his Bellarmine team, playing in the NCAA Tournament. That team started the season at No. 1, went through a ton of adversity, dropped all the way out of the poll, then fought its way back into the NCAA Tournament. The Knights would lose that day, and were greatly disappointed. A year later, that team would go on to win the NCAA Tournament.

“It’s all about what you do when times get tough,” Davenport said.

It sure is.

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