Covering COVID19: The two weeks everything changed
My first Coronavirus story aired on Jan. 29th: Jupiter Medical Center announces new Coronavirus protocol. Hospitals in our area were just starting to add travel screening questions to see if patients exhibiting flu-like symptoms were potentially infected with COVID19. At the time, the virus seemed like such a distant threat.
As the days went by, our coverage of the virus picked up pace: how could China's lock down impact our supply chain of pharmaceutical and wedding dresses? What about people planning trips to Europe? It started to occur to me in February that the virus could have an impact on me, my wedding plans, and honeymoon to Italy this fall. But for the most part, I think I, and most people I knew, where naive about COVID19's threat. It still felt like something that was a world away.
On Monday, March 9, I started to see the shift: someone with the Coronavirus had recently attended a conference at the Palm Beach Convention Center. The virus wasn't "here," necessarily but it had been here. And soon after that, it was like a domino effect of cancellations: music festivals, concerts, conferences started to pull the plug. Then it was sporting events, tournaments, and soon entire seasons. Then came the malls and museums, beaches and businesses. It seemed like no one wanted to be that business or that event that refused to heed the warnings, so one by one, everything ended.
Part of me didn't want to believe the world around me was changing so quickly, and I held onto hope that my bridal party could still travel to Miami March 20th and celebrate my bachelorette weekend. I sent a text to my Maid of Honor (aka my sister) the morning of March 12th and we both agreed: we could still pull this trip off. There were only a few cases in Florida at the time. But just a few hours later, Miami Beach declared a state of emergency. Soon after, large events were cancelled. Beaches started closing. The Governor declared "Spring break is over." It started to become very clear to me that it would be irresponsible to ask my friends to travel, and we cancelled the trip. It's funny how I had been on some level in denial about this virus -- even though I had been covering it, and saw this coming for weeks.
WATCH: City of Delray closes beach, non-essential businesses:
It felt like the nation woke up to the threat on the night of March 11. That's when President Trump gave his Oval Office address about COVID19. That's also the night a Utah Jazz player became a confirmed case -- and Tom Hanks! It felt like the alarm was sounding from all different directions that Americans needed to wake up to this crisis -- that is was no longer a threat from overseas but an immediate issue here at home.
My fiance's family had been in South Florida with us that week because they were planning on flying from Miami to St. Thomas and spend three weeks in the Caribbean for their annual winter vacation. They had to cancel those plans and fly back to Maine instead. The day they flew out was the day I truly started to feel scared and unprepared. I went to Publix to pick up my weekly grocery haul but found a disturbing number of empty shelves. I knew hand sanitizer and toilet paper were in short supply, but why were people hoarding chicken breasts and ground beef?!
That following Monday, March 16, was the first day I can remember my heart racing as I got ready for work. The stress felt like I was getting ready to cover a hurricane again -- except we had no forecast models and no idea how ugly things would get and how we'd handle it. The thing with hurricanes is they pass. We had no idea (and still don't know) how long we'll be in shut-down mode.
That week, the station started to transition to more of a work-from-home operation. Reporters were assigned one photographer to work with indefinitely to reduce the number of people we interacted with each day -- and we were told not to come in to the office whenever possible. Morning meetings moved to conference calls. We relied more on Skype and Facetime for interviews. The station made bottles of hand sanitizer and got poles for us to use in the field as extended mic sticks so we could interview while social distancing. I became acutely aware of how many things I touched and how often I reached for my face. Like a nervous tick, I kept rubbing my hands together with sanitizer.
Making things worse is the sense that there's no end in sight and no escape. Every assignment at work is about the virus. Every new development is a bad one. There's so many press conferences and new executive orders coming down, it's hard to keep track. With everything closed, it feels like there is no where to go and nothing to do to get your mind off of the crisis, even on the weekends. Last Saturday, Jeremy and I woke up at 6 am and split up so we could wait in line at different grocery stores to get what we needed. The Target I went to had a line of at least 50 people waiting for the store to open. The clerks had everyone line up single file and lead us down the aisles, monitoring to make sure we only took 1 item per person for the products in high demand. I was so happy to finally score some toilet paper and Clorox wipes. But it was also disturbing to see how much had changed so fast. Some people were hoarding and panic buying -- others were desperately searching for the things they need to stay safe. Here I was waiting in the dark for a Target to open -- the same morning I thought I'd be waking up on Miami beach toasting mimosas. Instead, I was hunting for toilet paper.
WATCH: Passengers from tri-state area to be screened at PBI
We are in about day 20 of this new, socially distant reality. Coronavirus is the only story right now -- and there are endless angles to cover. Despite all the modifications we've had to make at the office, we are making it work and adapting. It is both upsetting and comforting to see how every single one of us is impacted by this virus. It's been tough, but at least we're all in this together. When I start to get down and worry about my wedding and my loss of normalcy, I try to maintain perspective and remember I still have a job and I am still healthy and so are my friends and family. I know this can't go on forever -- we just don't know how bad it will get before things get better.