I have spent the day writing sports news, and much of it, I’m just going to be honest with you, doesn’t matter to me, or at least, not nearly as much as it ordinarily would. I’m thrilled Teddy Bridgewater is getting a 3-year, $60 million contract with the Carolina Panthers, but honestly, I think it’s more important to think about New York City being put on notice for a shelter-in-place order, and the millions of people, literally, whose lives and livelihoods will be affected.
Indiana naming a new athletic director would be a big news story on a normal day, but against the backdrop of the vice president of the U.S. talking about the possibility of erecting military field hospitals in New York state in response to the COVID-19 outbreak there, I couldn’t muster much enthusiasm.
The ACC and SEC officially canceled the rest of their sports seasons Tuesday, but as Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell correctly surmised while meeting reporters Tuesday, the entire American economy is about to be shut down in a bet that it will alleviate some strain on its health care system in anticipation of this pandemic.
And then there’s the Kentucky Derby. That’s a major news story that matters in this city and state, and thank goodness it’s being postponed and not canceled. But that decision having been made, I wrote my thoughts, but moved on pretty quickly.
I was a history major in college. I watched historic things being said almost hourly by leaders in Washington and elsewhere today. So I just want to take some stock:
1). YOU KNOW IT’S SERIOUS WHEN POLITICIANS START PLAYING NICE: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and President Donald Trump are about as close to mortal political enemies as you’ll find. In the past 24 hours, their tones have changed.
On Tuesday morning, Cuomo spoke of a conversation with Trump: “I said to the president, who is a New Yorker, who I have known for many, many years, I put my hand out in partnership and said, ‘I want to work together 100 percent. I need your help. I want your help. And New Yorkers will do whatever they can to be good partners with the federal government.’ I think the president was 100 percent sincere when he said he wanted to work in partnership and cooperation. I can tell you the actions he has taken evidence that. His team has been on it. I know a team when they’re on it, I know a team when they’re not on it. His team is on it. They’ve been responsive, late at night, early in the morning, doing everything they can do.”
Trump, speaking with reporters, said he has encountered a more united spirit in working with congress and governors than he has encountered in his term as president.
I’m going to tell you, there are days in this space I’m going to look for things to feel good about. If government agencies will get so focused on this problem that they think only of working together for the good of the country and of people, that will be a great thing to see.
2). THE NUMBERS, AS OF 7:30 PM: The world is about to go over 200,000 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus. The U.S. is at 6,330. There have been 7,903 deaths worldwide and 90 in the U.S.
In Kentucky, there are now 26 cases, one in a new location, Lyon County. There has been one death.
In Indiana, there have been 30 cases with two deaths. As of 4 p.m., there had been 380 tests given in Kentucky, and 139 in Indiana (number not updated since midnight last night).
3). NEW YORK CITY ON NOTICE: It is difficult to imagine a city of the size of New York pulling the plug and asking everyone to stay in place for even a short period, let alone for a week or more. Yet that is what city leaders are contemplating after looking at the size of the COVID-19 threat and their ability to handle it.
Still, the decision is an agonizing one for leaders in New York and all over the nation, who have urged people to stay away from large gatherings, but are seeing all too much evidence that they are not.
“Folks have to understand that right now, with so many New Yorkers losing employment, losing paychecks, dealing with all sorts of stresses and strains, I’m hearing constantly from people who are tremendously worried about how they’re going to make ends meet,” New York mayor Bill de Blasio said. “…In that scenario, a shelter-in-place begs a lot of questions. What is going to happen with folks who have no money?”
Cuomo has asked for help from the Army Corps of Engineers and the National Guard. He said that the state has 53,000 hospital beds, 20% of which are being used and that he expects the virus to require 55,000 hospital beds, at the low end of projections, but as many as 110,000.
New York now is the national leader in confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 1,700 (as of 3 p.m. Monday). Eleven days prior, that number was 23.
4). DRIVE-THRU NATION: Those restaurants that are able to are converting quickly to drive-through, delivery and curbside service, after Kentucky and many other states ordered dine-in services to shut down in an effort to curb mass gatherings.
Those of us who can, let’s try to support these establishments, especially smaller, local restaurants. Everybody is going to take a financial hit over the next several months. Buying gift cards. Ordering take-out. Tipping a little extra. Some won’t be able to do that. But we need to do what we can.
But in the end, this is going to take larger-scale government intervention. Marriott announced the furloughing of thousands of employees without pay Tuesday. Macy’s announced the shutdown of all of its U.S. stores, though the company said it would continue to pay employees.
5). CHECKS IN THE MAIL (SOON)? When he met with reporters in the morning, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said that the president asked for immediate economic relief for workers.
“We’re looking at sending checks to Americans immediately,” Mnuchin said. “ …Americans need cash now, and the president wants to get cash now. And I mean now — in the next two weeks.”
McConnell said that he is instructing Republicans in the U.S. Senate to immediately pass a relief bill that came from the House and then begin work on a larger $1 trillion stimulus package ordered by the president, including $250 million in direct payments to Americans.
McConnell called putting together such a package in short order a “herculean” challenge, and appointed three different committees to work on different parts of the bill.
6). A MOMENT OF PATRIOTISM: People are not heeding the calls to refrain from congregating in large numbers. Spring Break in Florida looks like it always has. As do photos from the French Quarter in New Orleans, where the governor has put strict measures in place to prevent the spread of the virus.
“We all have a duty,” Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear. “We all have a job to do to fight this virus … Business as usual is not doing your duty.”
Dr. Deborah Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, went out of her way to make a plea to younger Americans.
“I want to speak particularly to our largest generation now, our millennials,” she said Monday. “I am the mom of two wonderful millennial young women who are bright and hardworking and I will tell you what I told to them. They are the core group that will stop this virus. They are the group that communicates successfully, independent of picking up a phone. They intuitively know how to contact each other without being in large social gatherings. We’re asking all of them to hold their gatherings to under 10 people. Not just in bars and restaurants, but in homes.”
Beshear sounded not a threatening tone but just a straightforward one where this is concerned.
“We have one chance to limit our contacts and prevent a spike of cases,” he said. “Without that, we have to take other measures.”
7). MORE KENTUCKY RESTRICTIONS: Beshear on Tuesday ordered the closing of any business that cannot, by their nature, comply with CDC social distancing guidelines. Some of these will be tough.
They include entertainment and recreational facilities, community and recreation centers, gyms and exercise facilities, hair salons, nail salons, spas, concert venues, theaters and sporting event facilities.
“These are all places that people congregate, and it’s another step we have to take to make sure that everybody’s sacrifice works,” Beshear said. “We can reduce contacts and change the curve of those graphs.”
Some businesses are exempt because of their critical nature. Those that remain open will be in the areas of: providing food, food processing, agriculture, industrial manufacturing, feed mills, construction, trash collection, retail, grocery, consumer goods, home repair and hardware, auto repair, pharmacy, medical facilities, biomedical and healthcare, post offices, insurance, banks, gas stations, laundromats, veterinary clinics, pet stores, warehouses and distribution centers, public transportation and hotels and commercial lodging.
These closures are to happen by 5 p.m. Wednesday.
8). A SENSITIVE QUESTION: Credit to The New York Times for examining this. The question is, are we overreacting? Is the danger we’re turning our lives upside down to avoid worth the cost, economic and otherwise, that we are about to pay?
As that question on Twitter, and you’ll be shamed. But it is a question that deserves an answer. (Read the book, “Red Teaming: How Your Business Can Conquer the Competition by Challenging Everything,” if you’d like to learn the value of contrarian opinions).
It’s a tough debate to have right now, in the midst of a lot of panic. But believe me, it will be a debate that is had for years to come.
I would urge everyone to read this story, whether you agree with it or not. And no matter what your belief, respect those who may differ. Chances are, both sides at this point have valid points. And we may not know until well after this is all over.
9). DERBY: All right. Let’s lighten it up at the end. I think the Derby being rescheduled for fall is a good thing. It gives us something to look forward to. It gives us something different. And Louisville will make it an unforgettable experience.
But fall is not spring. I had to smile when I saw an Instagram post by Beverly Bartlett, a former Courier Journal columnist, and a good one. She noted that wardrobes and dresses were going to be different in September than they would’ve been in May. So she encouraged friends to post their Derby hats now, rather than let them go to waste. I’d extend that to outfits. What else do we all have to do while sitting around the house?
10). FINALLY, THIS THOUGHT: I heard a couple of people complaining about the Derby being moved. Shoot, I’ve heard people complaining about a lot of things. I’m reminded of the film, “Apollo 13,” when someone remarks that the impending attempt to land three astronauts after their spacecraft had been crippled in space could be the biggest disaster in the history of the space program.
Gene Kranz, flight director, overhears him and interjects, “With all due respect sir, I believe this is going to be our finest hour.”
I don’t know if Kranz really said that. But he probably thought it, after watching his team tackle problem after problem, one at a time.
That’s what is happening now. Problems are being tackled, one at a time. And there are parts for each of us to play, even if those parts are just sitting at home – and watching Apollo 13. It feels like things are falling apart. But if they come together, it could be a stunning success story, in full view of the world.
Kranz, by the way, would be a good guy to get to know while spending time at home. His 2000 book, “Failure is Not an Option: Mission Control from Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond,” is available at Amazon by clicking here.
I’ll leave you after another tumultuous day with a quote from Kranz, one he gave engineers after the mechanical failure on Apollo 13. He told them: “You cannot operate in this room unless you believe that you are Superman, and whatever happens, you’re capable of solving the problem.”