COVID-LOCAL: Notable work from local newsrooms and how they are covering the coronavirus

A community ravaged by the Camp Fire is working to prepare, schools are relearning how to teach and local businesses are wondering how they'll survive

March 18, 2020

A community already ravaged by the 2018 Camp Fire, and with a high rate of upper respiratory disease, is preparing its most fragile citizens for a virus that attacks the lungs.

Colleges and universities across the United States are postponing graduations and relearning how to teach students who suddenly have no access to the equipment and facilities they’re used to.

And almost everywhere at once, small businesses are wondering how they will survive as officials suspend their ability to serve customers.

Across the country, journalists are delivering COVID-19 stories to their communities and audiences. We’ve asked for your submissions while scouring local news organizations for smart, interesting work.

Here are three stories, plus a little about the inspiration behind these pieces as told by the journalists who pulled them off.

Senior, homeless communities brace for impact of coronavirus

By Natalie Hanson of the Chico (California) Enterprise-Record

Because my area has a high number of senior citizens and homeless individuals after the Camp Fire, and a high death rate of upper respiratory disease, I investigated how senior and homeless shelters, and providers of classes for senior adults, are preparing for a possible COVID-19 spread.

I ultimately used the insight of executive directors at a homeless shelter and an assisted living center; our county’s department of public health annual community health assessment data; two institutions offering classes to seniors; our local parks and recreation district; and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes. I contacted over seven assisted living homes in my area by phone and email, as well as the two major homeless shelters in Chico.

College students across the country cope with academic changes as COVID-19 spreads

By Cam Rodriguez and Sahi Padmanabhan of 14 East Magazine (from Chicago’s DePaul University)

With DePaul’s announcement of its COVID-19 policies released only 24 hours prior to publishing, we used social media — Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter — to reach out to students from various higher education institutions across the United States, including those in California, South Carolina, Michigan, Massachusetts, Illinois, Indiana, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Washington, Wisconsin, West Virginia and Tennessee, among others.

As we continue our coverage, we will be focusing on students within certain fields and how they are affected by school or facility closures, comparing contingency strategies and plans with that of DePaul’s — particularly students who rely on specialized equipment (like film or TV production), experiences (nursing students) and facilities (performing arts students). Some of these students are from the same universities we have already spoken with; others are new, bringing our overall total to over 40 colleges and universities in the past week. That story should be out by Friday morning!

14 East is also releasing a twice-weekly newsletter to continue coverage, especially as it was announced Wednesday morning that there is a faculty member at DePaul with COVID-19.

How to help small businesses during COVID-19 crisis

By Jennifer Lewerenz of knsiradio.com (St. Cloud, Minnesota)

What can the public do to help the mom and pop shops? We work in a small downtown area and the business community here is very strong and close-knit, so we went to a business owner down the block.

Since the story was published, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz signed an executive order suspending all dine-in service at restaurants. Take out, delivery and curbside pickup are still allowed, but the “buy gift card” message is still being touted as a good way to help in the short and long term.

We have strong ties with the business community, but if you aren’t sure where to go, or are having trouble getting a response, go to the downtown council or your local Chamber of Commerce.

Have you or your colleagues produced some great journalism around COVID-19? Submit your stories here! Besides being a great help to your community, the rest of the journalism industry will benefit from it. Short stories, long stories, all media  — including radio, video, photos, podcasts, data visualizations, social media and of course print. The more you can share about your behind-the-scenes work, the more useful your submission will be for others. We’ll continue to round up and share the best work in our Covering COVID-19 newsletter and in future roundups like this.

Submissions have been edited for brevity and clarity.

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