March 17, 2020

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Putting a face on the coronavirus

We don’t know for sure exactly how many people have contracted COVID-19. The confirmed total and those who actually have it are likely two vastly different numbers. Officially, we’re talking just under 200,000 worldwide. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the official number in the U.S. was just under 3,500 Monday afternoon.

Either way, it’s a big number, and a number that includes more than 7,000 deaths. Still, despite those numbers, what seems to really resonate is when someone famous gets it — such as actors Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson and, announced Monday, actor Idris Elba.

And it’s actually smart of news outlets to make a big deal out of a celebrity testing positive. Celebrities bring validity to a crisis that so-called “unknown,” nameless people do not. Celebrities give the virus a face and a voice that people might listen to.

On Monday’s “Good Morning America” on ABC, basketball star Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz spoke to co-anchor Robin Roberts and was able to relay the kind of information that gets through to viewers: his symptoms now, how he felt before he got tested and updates on life in isolation.

And here’s the part that, hopefully, gets through to those who still might not be taking this thing seriously:

“I’m asymptomatic,” Mitchell said. “I could walk down the street if it wasn’t public knowledge that I was sick, you wouldn’t know it. I think that’s the scariest part about this virus, is that you may seem fine, be fine and you never know who you may be talking to, who they’re going home to.”

Many people might be thinking, “Well, even if I get it, I’ll be fine.” But the danger extends far beyond how it might impact you. It’s how you might put others in danger. And interviews with celebrities such as Mitchell give viewers a sobering look that you need not be coughing and feverish to threaten the health and lives of others.

So kudos to ABC News for landing the exclusive interview with Mitchell, who gives coronavirus a face that looks healthy, but a voice that warns of the dangers.

More in the morning

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, appearing on Monday’s “CBS This Morning.” (CBS News)

While it’s worthwhile to have regular press conferences with President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and other members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, it’s just as effective to have members of the administration go on the news shows for updates. That setting tends to make for a more impactful question-and-answer session that produces better information.

Case in point was U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams appearing Monday on “CBS This Morning.” Adams gave this chilling comment: “We’ve got a choice to make. Do we want to follow the trajectory of a South Korea where they had aggressive mitigation measures? Or do we want to follow the trajectory of Italy where we’re seeing a rapid increase in cases and more deaths?”

A big concern now is how our hospitals will hold up. Adams had information to share about that.

“We have the national strategic stockpile that’s been around for years and we’re always keeping updated and maintained so that when states have specific shortages we can respond to those,” he said. “We’re leaning into the stockpile. We’re increasing purchases. We’re working with companies like 3M to make sure we can make more masks available.”

But Adams’ best line was his funniest when he told Gayle King, “We really want people to understand that it’s about preparation, but not panic, and that you can’t build a toilet paper fortress to try and keep the coronavirus out.”

Putting a GPS on coronavirus

Using info from local government officials, The Buffalo News published some of the places those who tested positive for COVID-19 might have been in recent days in that area.

For example, it tracked one person as having gone to Rite Aid on North Buffalo Road in Orchard Park from 7 to 8 p.m. on March 13. In another example, it reported that someone traveled on the Amtrak Train No. 49 from New York City to Buffalo with a midnight arrival on March 9.

It all feels a little Big Brother, but in a pandemic, it’s good to alert the public if they might have come in contact with someone carrying the virus, particularly if the name of the person is not published.

TV notes

  • Starting tonight, ABC’s “Nightline” will return to its original airtime of 11:35 p.m. Eastern, right after the local news. “Nightline” already announced last week that every broadcast, for the time being, will focus solely on coronavirus. “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” is going to show reruns for the next two weeks and will move from its 11:35 p.m. starting time to 12:05 a.m.
  • NBC’s Lester Holt will host a special report about the coronavirus Thursday at 10 p.m. Eastern. “NBC News Special Report: Coronavirus Pandemic” will be shown on NBC, MSNBC and streaming services NBC News NOW and Telemundo Digital. The one-hour special will include Dr. John Torres and Dr. Joseph Fair to give up-to-the-minute information on the virus.
  • Joy Behar is taking time off from “The View” as a precaution against the coronavirus. Last week, Behar said on the show, “I’m in a higher risk group because of my age, but I’m perfectly healthy. I don’t look my age, but I’m actually up there.” She’s out for at least this week.
  • The “Today” show’s Al Roker and Craig Melvin were pulled off air Monday after possibly being exposed to a staffer who tested positive for coronavirus. The staffer was showing “mild symptoms.” No word on when Roker and Melvin will return.

Help us out

Coronavirus coverage throughout the nation has been superb, and Poynter is looking to highlight that coverage. We see a lot of great work, especially when it comes to larger news outlets such as The New York Times and The Washington Post.

But we can’t see everything. That’s where you come in.

Help us out. If your news organization has done something we should share with our readers, let us know. Go to this link, fill out the form and we can direct our readers to more excellent and important coverage.

What about sports?

(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

There are no sports games being played right now, but Monday actually was a fairly busy day in sports news. NFL free agency starts this week and teams already are active in making trades and negotiating new deals.

But that’s about it. Too bad because this is typically one of the best times of year on the sports calendar, with March Madness, the Masters Golf Tournament, the NBA and NHL gearing up for the playoffs and spring training setting up Major League Baseball’s Opening Day.

But with all those events postponed, canceled or suspended indefinitely, sports reporters are now helping out with coronavirus coverage as many newspapers are in the process of combining a pared-down sports section with other sections.

ESPN is heavily covering the NFL and has put its show “Get Up!” out front as a catch-all sports/coronavirus show. ESPN’s Washington, D.C.-based shows such as “Pardon the Interruption” and “Around the Horn,” as well as “Highly Questionable” and “High Noon,” have temporarily shut down. Meanwhile, Fox Sports 1 has also shuttered all of its daily studio shows, including “Undisputed” and “The Herd with Colin Cowherd.”

The Athletic — the ad-free, subscription-based sports-based website — sent a note to subscribers Monday saying it will continue to plow forward. It has started a live blog to cover the coronavirus.

Paul Fichtenbaum, chief content officer of The Athletic, wrote that the site is committed to keeping its journalists safe, but readers should “expect more features and long-form, as well as our usual steady cadence of deeply informed local and national stories that bring depth and insight into the players, teams and sports you are most passionate about.”

That’s debatable

Democratic presidential hopefuls Joe Biden, left, and Bernie Sanders at Sunday night’s debate. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Almost lost in all the coverage of the coronavirus was Sunday night’s Democratic presidential debate between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.

By far, it was the most substantive debate of this election cycle. Maybe it was because there were just two candidates. Maybe it was because there was no studio audience to interrupt or distract. Maybe it was because of the moderators. Or maybe it was a combination of all three. Whatever it was, it was the most watchable debate so far.

Huge credit needs to go to the moderating team of CNN’s Dana Bash and Jake Tapper and Univision’s Ilia Calderón. In fact, I had to double-check to make sure those were the three moderators because they were that much in the background. (That’s actually a compliment.) There were often long stretches when the moderators didn’t speak at all and simply turned over the conversation to Biden and Sanders. It helped that the two candidates, even when disagreeing, allowed the other to talk so that the moderators didn’t have to step in and referee.

The three also had a great feel for when to interrupt and they settled on the right topics. Besides coronavirus, which obviously dominated the debate, they asked about electability, climate change and health care. They also got Biden and Sanders on the record about whether they would support the other candidate in a presidential election and if they would pick a female running mate.

Another nice touch was CNN putting the questions up on the screen as the candidates talked.

All in all, a strong night for CNN’s moderators and a vote for having future debates with no audiences.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
Tom Jones

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