LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was admitted to a hospital Sunday for tests, his office said, because he is still suffering symptoms, 10 days after he was diagnosed with COVID-19.
Johnson's office said the admission to an undisclosed London hospital came on the advice of his doctor and was not an emergency. The prime minister's Downing St. office said it was a "precautionary step" and Johnson remains in charge of the government.
Johnson, 55, has been quarantined in his Downing St. residence since being diagnosed with COVID-19 on March 26 — the first known head of government to fall ill with the virus.
Johnson has continued to preside at daily meetings on Britain's response to the outbreak and has released several video messages during his 10 days in isolation.
In a message Friday, a flushed and red-eyed Johnson said he said he was feeling better but still had a fever.
The virus causes mild to moderate symptoms in most people, but for some, especially older adults and the infirm, it can cause pneumonia and lead to death.
Johnson has received medical advice remotely during his illness, but going to a hospital means doctors can see him in person.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who has been designated to take over if Johnson becomes incapacitated, is set to lead the government's coronavirus meeting Monday.
Johnson's fiancee, Carrie Symonds, 32, revealed Saturday that she spent a week in bed with coronavirus symptoms, though she wasn't tested. Symonds, who is pregnant, said she was now "on the mend." She has not been staying with the prime minister in Downing St. since his diagnosis.
The government said Sunday that almost 48,000 people have been confirmed to have COVID-19 in the U.K., and 4,934 have died.
Johnson replaced Theresa May as Conservative prime minister in July and won a resounding election victory in December on a promise to complete Britain's exit from the European Union. But Brexit, which became official Jan. 31, has been overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe.
Johnson's government was slower than those in some European countries to impose restrictions on daily life in response to the pandemic, leading his critics to accuse him of complacency. He imposed an effective nationwide lockdown March 23, but his government remains under huge pressure to boost the country's number of hospital beds and ventilators and to expand testing for the virus.
London has been the center of the outbreak in the U.K., and politicians and civil servants have been hit hard. Several other members of Johnson's government have also tested positive for the virus, including Health Secretary Matt Hancock and junior Health Minister Nadine Dorries. Both have recovered.
News of Johnson's admission to hospital came an hour after Queen Elizabeth II made a rare televised address to the nation, in which she urged Britons to remain "united and resolute" in the fight against the virus.
"We will succeed — and that success will belong to every one of us," the 93-year-old monarch said, drawing parallels to the struggle of World War II.
“We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return: we will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again,” she said.
Seniors — at highest risk for COVID-19 — are the backbone of our volunteer resources, but, for their safety, please remind them now is the time to shelter at home. However, that does not mean they must be sidelined or idle.
Every person that knows how to sew, please start sewing protective masks at home. Been thinking about spring cleaning while cooped up inside? Then don’t throw out those old sheets: Cut them up, make protective masks. Use your favored office supply store’s online service — or Amazon — to order boxes of rubber bands to connect the masks around ears. Maybe ask your local fabric or craft store for unused overstock — it’s not like they’re doing a brisk business right now.
OK, quilters and Native sewers: Time to get creative; make them colorful. Maybe our museums are temporarily shuttered, but let’s keep sharing our local art — one way to “face” this crisis head-on. Drink some coffee, then send extras to your local clinics, doctors, nurses, first responders and hospital staff.
We can do this; that’s what makes this the “Great Land.” And please, stay safe.
— Donna Strait
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Right now, most Alaskans are anxious and concerned as we follow the daily updates of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a difficult and uncertain time, and we are all doing our best to ensure the safety and well-being of our families and friends. It’s during times like these that Alaskans pull together to support one another. Time after time, in the face of disaster, our tight-knit Alaska community has allowed us to overcome difficult times, and will undoubtedly get us through the challenges of today and tomorrow.
That same support has always been given to Alaska’s men and women in uniform, and especially to those serving in harm’s way. As I write this, about 2,000 Alaska-based troops from the 1-25 Stryker Brigade are serving in Iraq and Syria — many, many miles away from their families — protecting our freedom and way of life back here at home. Now, the burdens they face are doubled, as they know their families, like all Alaskans, are facing a fight of their own. With this evolving situation, uncertainty looms over how this global pandemic may affect when they can return home from deployment and if their loved ones will be safe until then.
In this time of isolation, we should all be working to find creative ways to support one another and stay connected — that includes our military and their families, both in Alaska and serving overseas. I ask our community to keep them, both the troops and their families, in your thoughts and prayers. We should not forget their service and eagerly await their safe arrival back home.
To our service men, women, and families, we are proud of you and thank you for all you do.
— Sen. Lisa Murkowski
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It is wonderful to see people hunkering down and loving the great trails we have in the Anchorage bowl. It is not wonderful to see the accumulation of dog poo on these trails. Some trailheads are truly disgusting. The area near the Elmore ballfields parking lot is starting to look like a feed lot!
The practice of cleaning up after your pooch seems to have been “social distanced” away. This applies especially to you “fat tire heads” — just because you are rocketing down the trail with your mutt lagging way behind does not mean you are exempt from doing your duty on the doodie! If you can’t keep track of your own mutt, pick up the poo from somebody else. It’s the least you can doo doo.
Wash your hands!
— Jim Thiele
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According to a recent op-ed, our illustrious governor has introduced bills sanctioning the use of jail cells for Alaskans burdened with mental health issues. Despite a court finding to the contrary, he thinks this makes good legal sense.
Alaska Psychiatric Institute’s doors remain open, yet it’s only 50% full, again according to the op-ed. Like so many functions of our day-to-day lives, money is the driving force. API needs it drastically. And mental health “inmates” need it more.
I don’t know the costs associated with bringing API to working capacity. The physical plant, enhanced safety procedures and full staffing will all cost a lot. Where, oh where, do we get that kind of money? I know exactly where.
Currently the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority is planning on spending umpteen millions of dollars for a road to and through the Ambler Mining District. I know Alaska’s economy thrives on development of its resources and this road will facilitate that development. But I find it quite short-sighted, despite our long-term budgetary quandaries, that we want to exploit the development of some mineral resources at the cost of exploiting the safety and treatment of another of the state’s resources — its citizens.
It’s like the current pandemic. If one chooses to leave one’s house, you prioritize mightily before choosing where to go and for what reason. Nonessential outings are foregone.
This road and the money spent on it falls in the nonessential category. The essential category is treatment of people. The state has been in the throes of the budget crisis for an embarrassingly long time. This road can wait. Our citizens cannot.
— Sherry Lewis
My compliments to Rodger Painter for his recent letter upping the ante for Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s recall. The governor’s initiatives to fund the ferry and educational systems and flat-fund other crucial services are far too little and too late and transparent to deter the recall effort, even though the campaign to remove him by the statewide signature-gathering event has been replaced by an alternative because of the virus lock-down.
The new procedures calls for a prospective voter to go online and request a booklet with directions for the recipient to use and certify the signature of only four other petitioners and return it in a self-addressed envelope within one week.
I can’t wait to get my booklet, and hope you feel the same way.
— R.J. Hensel
Ravn aircraft parked at Palmer Municipal Airport on Thursday, April 2, 2020. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)
RavnAir Group will park all 72 of its airplanes and temporarily lay off all remaining staff as passenger revenue continues to decline amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the company said Sunday.
The flight company, which operates RavnAir Alaska, PenAir and RavnAir Connect, said in a written statement that it has lost 90% of passenger revenue as concerns for spreading the virus ramp up. Gov. Mike Dunleavy on March 27 banned all nonessential travel within Alaska.
The company previously flew passengers and mail to 115 rural Alaska communities.
The company has been in contact with other air carriers around the state since Thursday to determine new or replacement air services, the statement said. The company drastically cut its operations last week and said Sunday that remaining staff will be laid off “until the company is in a position to cover the costs of rehiring, resuming flights and operating to the many communities it serves through our state.”
“These actions will allow the company to ‘hit pause’ and await word on its Federal CARES Act grant applications and other sources of financial assistance that will allow it to get through the Coronavirus crisis and successfully restart operations,” the statement said.
Here’s the announcement:
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
A man died from a gunshot wound after he was dropped off at an Anchorage hospital Saturday night, police said.
An officer reported hearing gunshots just after 9 p.m. near Bragaw and the Glenn Highway, according to an online alert. Several citizens also reported shots near Seventh Avenue and Klevin Street.
While officers were searching the area for people who may have been involved, police said a man was dropped off at a hospital with a life-threatening gunshot wound to his upper body at 9:20 p.m. Police said Sunday that the man died from the injury.
Police are still investigating whether the man was shot near where reports of gunfire were heard. No one has been arrested but police are asking anyone with information about the shooting to call Dispatch at 311.
Alaska Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink, left, and Alaska Regional Hospital Chief Medical Officer Keri Gardner discuss the first positive case of coronavirus in Alaska during a press conference in Anchorage on March 12, 2020. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
The state’s chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, has become the explainer-in-chief for Alaskans during the coronavirus outbreak, a regular at news conferences who has become known for providing information in a straight-forward, easy-to-understand manner.
She’s gotten praise from residents for her approach and inspired a poem from a Juneau city official. U.S. Rep. Don Young, who was criticized last month for downplaying the seriousness of the virus in a speech to fellow seniors, has jumped on the bandwagon with a website where people can submit thank you notes to Zink.
Colleagues of the emergency medicine physician aren't surprised. Dr. Jay Butler, a former chief medical officer for Alaska who now works for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Zink can translate data for others, “always with an eye to the humanity in health care and public health.”
State health Commissioner Adam Crum said Butler was among those who suggested Zink for her current role, which she started last year. Crum said he thinks Zink’s emergency medicine experience — “where your normal is chaos” — helped prepare her for this time.
In emergency medicine, “nothing is ever going to be exactly as you need it but you still have to make sure you take care of the patient and you have to make sure that you're communicating ... with possibly very upset and emotionally distressed family members," he said.
In regular news conferences with Gov. Mike Dunleavy that also often feature Crum, Zink provides updates on the number of cases of COVID-19 in Alaska, state preparations, ways Alaskans can prevent the spread of the virus that causes the disease, testing and scientific developments.
The typically hour-long news conferences are streamed online and have been carried on a statewide public affairs channel. Thursday, nearly the entire news conference, which stretched about 90 minutes, was devoted to Zink, who gave a lengthy presentation and fielded questions.
She often begins responses by saying, “I appreciate that question.” In news conferences and short videos, she reminds Alaskans to be kind to one another.
She also has admitted mistakes. For instance, Zink apologized for misspeaking Tuesday about a case involving an oil-field worker, saying she wasn’t able to fully discuss it with her epidemiological team in gathering information ahead of a news conference. The details were quickly corrected.April 5, 2020
Zink, who has practiced medicine in Palmer and been an emergency room doctor at Mat-Su Regional Hospital, was on a sabbatical, traveling the world with her family, when Crum first contacted her about possibly becoming the state’s chief medical officer. The next time they spoke, “she had read four books by other chief medical officers ... to see what their perspective was. That’s Dr. Zink,” Crum said. She’s “always bettering herself,” he said.
The Associated Press on Tuesday submitted a request to speak with Zink through the health department’s communications office. A department spokesman said he’d provide an update on the request when he had one.
Zink told the Alaska Landmine podcast last year she grew up in Colorado with physician parents. She worked as a mountaineering guide in Alaska during college and in pursuing medicine gravitated toward emergency care.
"I love being able to take care of a CEO right next to someone who's homeless right next to a kid. Like, it's just this whole variety of life. And you really realize how human we all are," she told the podcast.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy, center right, and the state's chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink (appearing by videoconference), participate in a media briefing with other state officials on the latest COVID-19 developments in Alaska. (Screengrab via Gov. Dunleavy's Vimeo Livestream page)
David Scordino, a medical director at Alaska Regional Hospital who has known Zink for several years, said she is authentic.
“Everything that you are seeing is her genuine self. She's intelligent and capable and well-mannered and thoughtful and that expression of caring comes out in every interaction you ever have with her,” he said.
Juneau City Manager Rorie Watt, in an “ode” to Zink, included these lines: “Oh Alaska, I love you and it feels like we are teetering on the brink/ who can guide and steer us? The unflappable Dr. Zink!”
Watt said the poem was meant to show appreciation and remind people worried or scared about COVID-19 “they can just trust our expert.”
Andrew Halcro, executive director of the Anchorage Community Development Authority, is a Zink fan, too. He recently said on Twitter that when she approaches the podium to speak, “I feel like everything is going to be alright.”
Zink has since started attending news conferences remotely. Crum said she wants to practice the social distancing she preaches.
Halcro said he likes Zink's concise manner.
“The difference is, if you ask Dr. Zink what time it is, she will tell you what time it is. If you ask anybody else on that stage what time it is, they will tell you how to build a watch,” he said, adding later: “In times of crisis, people want facts. They want to be reassured. ... They want to know what’s coming."
FILE - In this March 13, 2020 file photo, a nurse at a drive-up coronavirus testing station set up by the University of Washington Medical Center wears a face shield and other protective gear as she waits by a tent in Seattle. Experts and health officials who are trying to plan a response to the coronavirus outbreak are missing a critical piece of information – the number of health care workers who have tested positive for the disease. Washington state faced the first major outbreak of COVID-19 in the nation, but health officials have not kept track of how many doctors and nurses have the disease. New York also lacks infection figures for medical staff, according to Jill Montag, spokeswoman with the New York State Department of Health. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File) (Ted S. Warren/)
SEATTLE — Experts and health officials who are trying to plan a response to the coronavirus outbreak are missing a critical piece of information — the number of health care workers who have tested positive for the disease.
Washington state faced the first major outbreak of COVID-19 in the nation, but health officials have not kept track of how many doctors and nurses have the disease. New York, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, also lacks infection figures for medical staff, according to Jill Montag, spokeswoman with the New York State Department of Health.
That information can help save lives, said Dr. Grete Porteous, an anesthesiologist in Seattle who has worked on health care emergency preparedness and crisis management. It previously helped reduce risks to medical personnel during the much smaller SARS outbreak of 2003-04, she said.
With the medical profession facing shortages of basic protective gear, “the question should be asked: are there ways that we can improve what we do to make care safer for everyone?” Porteous said. “Without regional and national public health data on COVID-19 infections in health care personnel, it is difficult to envision how to start answering this question.”
During the SARS outbreak, Porteous said, data about “an alarmingly high rate of infection and death” in medical staff led to improved rules around infection protocol and use of personal protective equipment.
Ruth Schubert, spokeswoman for the Washington Nurses Association, said that same data are needed for COVID-19.
“We are urging the (Department of Health) and the emergency operations team at the state level to begin collecting and reporting this information,” she said.
Experts who create models for how the coronavirus will impact the country’s health care system say they also want the data to better determine how severely hospitals will be impacted.
While health officials count ICU beds and calculate hospital capacity to plan for a surge in cases, Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, has created a model for predicting COVID-19 deaths. It also predicts the number of hospital beds, ICU beds and ventilators each state will need.
Murray is also trying to include things like how many workers are needed to care for patients. But without access to the number of infected health care workers, he's unable to make that determination.
Murray hopes that will change.
“That’s a really important piece of information to know,” he said. “I’ll add that to the data that we’ll ask for from governments.”
As of Saturday, Washington state had more than 7,500 cases and New York had counted more than 110,000. Neither state knows how many of those cases are health care workers.
Ohio, on the other hand, reported at least 16% of its cases involved health care workers, while in Minnesota, it was 28% on Wednesday.
Other countries are reporting COVID-19’s impact on their health care community. Spain has said at least 12,298 health care workers have tested positive for the disease – 14.4% of the total reported cases. More than 60 doctors have died in Italy.
Johns Hopkins University’s online map tracking the spread of the virus doesn’t include a subset of data on how many health care workers have become sick. The platform wasn’t built to collect data on workers, said university spokesman Douglas Donovan. CDC charts also don’t break it out.
The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security has recommended hospitals keep a log of staff with COVID-19. Those who have recovered could work on units devoted to COVID-19. But data on infected staff may not be available because hospitals want to protect that information, fearing it may appear they have unsafe conditions, said Dr. Angela Gardner, an emergency physician and professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
Having data on how many health care workers are sick would help with planning, she said.
Hospitals also need better parameters for how long a worker should stay away from patients if exposed to COVID-19, she said. CDC recommendations say a doctor or nurse can return three days after they are asymptomatic. But if a worker was exposed and didn’t have symptoms or even tested negative, they’re required to be quarantined 14 days.
Although the Washington state health department isn’t collecting the data, some counties are. At least 88 health care workers in Snohomish County have tested positive for the coronavirus, out of 1,300 total cases. In Yakima County, it’s more like 30%.
However, officials in King County, home to the highest concentration of cases, don’t know how many health care workers have the disease.
University of Washington Medicine began testing employees with symptoms on March 5, said spokeswoman Susan Gregg.
“Since that time, we have tested approximately 1,304 UW Medicine health care workers in our drive-through clinics,” she said. About 95.6% tested negative and 4.4 percent tested positive, she said. Many have already recovered.
Colorado health officials also want to find out who’s infected by implementing a testing program for all health care workers, said Micki Trost, a spokesperson for the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
“This testing strategy helps strengthen our medical capacity,” she said.
What do you do if you are Italian and stuck at home all day? You order a gabillion dollars’ worth of groceries and cook it all, even if there is no one else in the house to eat it except you. Based on this premise, I am proud to now announce that I have chicken broth, chicken soup, chicken salad, broiled chicken, boiled chicken and a meatloaf in my refrigerator. I have a gallon of my mom’s Sunday sauce in the freezer, accompanied by about three gallons of beans and cabbage soup. Yep, I may die of COVID-19, but I will be the most well-fed dead person you will ever see.
Here’s a tip I learned while experimenting in my kitchen: If you make your meatloaf exactly the same way you make your meatballs, you end up with one giant meatball. And that means that if you want to make a nice tomato sauce for spaghetti, you just cut up some in the sauce and simmer it until the meat is falling apart. Add to pasta with some Parmesan cheese on the top and enjoy.
If you are not a person attempting to eat their body weight through this epidemic, I’m not sure what other indoor activities I can recommend. Washing your sheets twice a week seems a futile exercise. Rearranging tea-bag boxes that you never use but always buy because the names seem so tasty only takes 10 minutes at best – and that’s even if you do it alphabetically based on real fruit content. I have straightened our everything in the house that could possibly be straightened. I washed all the dogs’ toys and spent an hour carefully dividing them between upstairs and downstairs. Because as we all know so well, dogs will never carry their toys from one floor to another in your house.
I know we will probably survive this, no matter how scary it seems right now. And it seems very scary. I am honestly terrified of putting my head out the door for fear some long-lasting airborne virus will find me. So, I will continue on my quest to find things to keep me occupied that don’t scare the dogs or birds. I make no promises, but I might soon have some great suggestions for walking around your house putting plants in different spots to see where they look good and get lots of sunlight. You can kill an hour easy with this if you walk slowly enough. I’ll check back with you in a week to tell you if it is a good exercise or if my plants are now trying to run away from home. Sheesh – you finally give them all the attention they seem to have been craving and what is your reward? They look at you as though you’ve lost your mind and try to back away as quickly as possible when you start heading for them. You know it’s bad when even the plants are running away from you.
I’ve decided that I will only read books about how hard life was in the past, so that the present will not seem so insurmountable. Once you’ve read about how people handled human waste in places like London in the 1700s or 1800s, having to parse your toilet paper squares is suddenly not such a hardship. It also reminds me that as bad as the world may seem right now, there were times in the past when it was so much worse. Our ancestors survived, and so will we.
Now let’s get back in that kitchen and see what you can make with all those items at the back of your closet and refrigerator that you bought swearing you would use. Now’s the time. What can you make with that strange flour, weird condiments and unrecognizable leftovers from the freezer? My nonna would have fed her family for a week on that. So now you have the challenge.
Elise Patkotak is a columnist and author. Her book “Coming Into the City” is available at AlaskaBooksandCalendars.com and at local bookstores.
The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to email@example.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.
Al Jackson, a die-hard Seattle Mariners fan and 11-year season ticket holder, takes in the view from the home plate entrance of T-Mobile Park in Seattle, Thursday, March 26, 2020, around the time when the Mariners' Opening Day baseball game against the visiting Texas Rangers would have started. Earlier in the month, Major League Baseball called off the start of the season due to the outbreak of the new coronavirus, but Jackson said he still felt he needed to be down at the ballpark just the same. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren) (Ted S. Warren/)
As fields, arenas and stadiums sit vacant and silent, the desire for sports to return far exceeds the capacity among those who oversee them to determine when they will. Assessing probability is futile, but public health leaders indicate that fans and leagues should prepare for sports to remain absent not just for the coming months but into next year.
The novel coronavirus outbreak has already canceled or postponed the NCAA tournament, the Olympics and Wimbledon. It has jeopardized the NBA playoffs, the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Masters and the baseball and soccer seasons. It is possible the rest of the 2020 sports calendar, including college football and the NFL, also will be lost, according to interviews with and public comments from more than a dozen sports leaders and public health experts. Most stressed the uncertainty in such a fluid situation.
"From my point of view based on data - and I'm huge sports fan, so this is really hard - I can't really predict or truly speculate," said Jared Evans, a senior researcher at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory. "We need as a population to be prepared for anything. And also be prepared for that disappointment."
Major sports bodies at the professional and collegiate levels have planned for a range of contingencies that include playing in empty stadiums and canceling seasons altogether, and they are bracing for the impact of the worst of them. They are driven by both business and altruistic motivations, eager to salvage financial losses and to provide diversion to the public.
But disease experts suggest the possibility feared most in the sports world - no major events for the rest of the year - may be more real than many believe.
"My crystal ball is not just cloudy," said Ali Khan, dean of the University of Nebraska Medical Center's College of Public Health and former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response. "It's black."
When Anthony Fauci, part of the White House's coronavirus task force, was asked this week about people looking forward to baseball games and concerts this summer, he did not answer directly. He said the only way to stop the virus is a vaccine, which experts expect will not be ready before early 2021.
"Unfortunately, I think perhaps if anything, having large spectator sports open back up may even have to be delayed a little bit longer than relaxing some of the other things," said Dean Winslow, an infectious-disease doctor at Stanford. "I hate to say that, because I'm a big sports fan.
"There's also the scenario a lot of people worry about, including my friend Dr. Fauci, that if you relax the control measures too soon, you could potentially induce a second wave of transmission to susceptible people," Winslow added when asked about professional and college football starting on time. "It's a little too soon to make that prediction. I certainly don't think it's impossible that we'll be able to start resuming things such as sporting events by the early fall."
The yearning among fans for sports' reappearance collides with reality. The U.S. Tennis Association said this week that it still plans to stage the U.S. Open as scheduled from late August through mid-September in New York. The site of the tournament, the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, is being converted to a temporary hospital.
The leaders of the NFL, after its medical director addressed team owners Tuesday, expressed confidence its season would begin as scheduled, without conditions. Days earlier, ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit, a bellwether for the sport, said in a radio interview that he would be "shocked" if any NFL or college football was played this fall.
Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott told the Mercury News this week that the conference has reviewed multiple models for how the college football season could unfold. In the most optimistic, training camp will be standard and the season will start on time.
"The most pessimistic," Scott said, "has no season at all."
A sole pedestrian crosses Lansdowne Street which would normally be bustling with Boston Red Sox baseball fans watching the team's first game of the season being played in Toronto on Opening Day at bars around Fenway Park, Thursday, March 26, 2020, in Boston. This year's baseball season has been postponed in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus. (AP Photo/David Goldman) (David Goldman/)
Jason Hackedorn looks into Progressive Field, home of the Cleveland Indians baseball team, March 26, 2020, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak) (Tony Dejak/)
The statues of, from left, Hal Newhouser, Charlie Gehringer, Hank Greenberg and Ty Cobb stand in left field inside Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers baseball team, March 26, 2020, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio) (Carlos Osorio/)
A grounds crew worker cuts the infield in front of empty seats at T-Mobile Park in Seattle, March 26, 2020, around the time when the first pitch would have been thrown in the Mariners' Opening Day baseball game against the visiting Texas Rangers. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren) (Ted S. Warren/)
How will we know it is safe for sports again? It is a thorny question, as other parts of the world have discovered.
In China, as coronavirus cases started to drop and everyday life appeared to stabilize, the Chinese Basketball Association targeted an April 15 return. Government restrictions pushed the date back to early May. This week, as cases started to rise again, the league announced an indefinite pause.
Nippon Professional Baseball, Japan's top league, could serve as a cautionary tale for Major League Baseball. With the number of new cases on the way down, NPB officials began preparing for a delayed start to the 2020 season, pushing its scheduled opening day from March 20 to April 24. Teams began playing exhibition games in empty stadiums.
However, on March 26, three Hanshin Tigers, including star pitcher Shintaro Fujinami, tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the Associated Press. The team responded by canceling its scheduled exhibition games, ordering players and staff to self-quarantine for 14 days, and disinfecting its home stadium.
NPB still planned to open the regular season April 24, but as Japan's coronavirus outbreak worsened, that became untenable. On Friday, league officials announced an indefinite extension to its delayed start.
U.S. experts said opening stadiums in this country would be among the last stages of lifting pandemic-related restrictions. The first step would be letting people go back to work, with social distancing still in place. Travel restrictions would thaw. Only after those changes could authorities consider allowing stadiums to open.
The best-case scenario, Winslow said, is that social distancing and other restrictive measures combined with higher summer temperatures lead to a dramatic decrease in cases by late May.
"That would potentially give public-health people the incentive to at least consider starting to relax these restrictions," Winslow said. "That would mean allowing potentially sporting events and concerts and that sort of thing to happen by the early fall."
Even if the seasonal change provides relief, it may be temporary. The 1918 flu pandemic diminished over the summer, then returned in the fall and lasted into 1919.
"The public health and epidemiologists are saying, 'The biggest tragedy we could have would be if we think we've got a handle on this and we're still going to have whatever the projection is - it may be 100,000 deaths - and we allow people to go back to normal everyday life and then infections happen again,' " Evans said. "That kind of slow rollout back to normalcy is going to be something that's difficult for everyone."
Allen Sills, the NFL's chief medical officer, addressed owners on a conference call Tuesday, and league leaders said afterward they were focused on playing an uninterrupted 2020 season.
"We're looking at a full season," NFL general counsel Jeff Pash said. "We did not discuss in either of our calls [with team presidents and owners] issues of a shortened season or any changes in the structure of the season. We're planning on going forward with a regular, complete season."
The NFL later softened its public stance, with Sills telling NFL.com on Thursday that “everyone’s hope” is a full season but it may not be feasible.
"The reality is none of us know those facts for certain right now," Sills said. "We hope and pray for the best and prepare for the worst, realizing that is one potential outcome that we will be back fully in business playing games as normal in front of fans on schedule. But it's certainly not the only outcome."
Despite the outward confidence, several franchises have pushed back deadlines for season-ticket buyers to make payments and reminded them of policies on canceled games. One high-ranking NFC team executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the matter frankly, said the NFL should be prepared for any possibility. "The biggest mistake you can make right now," he said, "would be to make an assumption."
The NFL has an easier path to return than college football. It would be unlikely, and maybe impossible, to start the season if students are not allowed on campus; Ohio State already has declared all summer classes will be taken online. The NFL has an option to try to separate players from the broader public that college football does not.
"I can't see us playing football without students, because athletes are students," West Virginia University President Gordon Gee said. "I can't see us playing football without fans in the stands and without students out there to support our team."
The possibility of a canceled NBA postseason, coupled with lost sponsorship from China after a preseason ordeal, could push the NBA's total revenue loss over $1 billion. The scope of the financial damage prompted Commissioner Adam Silver and other NBA executives to take 20 percent pay cuts. The NBA has made it clear that it is considering all manners of rescheduling, including delays that could push the 2019-20 season into the late summer or early fall and require, in turn, that the start of the 2020-21 season be delayed until Christmas.
The NBA has explored multiple scenarios for salvaging the postseason, most geared toward preserving a product for its television partners. Decision-makers understand that playing games in front of thousands of fans this summer is unlikely and that the league might need to switch to a single-site destination, such as Las Vegas, to host a quarantine-friendly tournament.
Police tape blocks an entrance to Citizens Bank Park, home of the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team, Tuesday, March 24, 2020, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum) (Matt Slocum/)
Yankee Stadium remains closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, March 26, 2020, in the Bronx borough of New York. (John Woike/Samara Media via AP) (John Woike/)
"Very open," MLB Players Association chief Tony Clark said when asked about the possibility of playing in empty stadiums. "That possibility exists. . . . The players are open to having a discussion about just about everything. Right now, no door is closed."
Playing games without fans is safer. But is it safe? Winslow said once travel restrictions ease and transmission is proven to be down, it would be. "I don't think that's beyond the realm of possibility at all, that we might be able to do that safely a few months from now," Winslow said.
First, the number of players and support staff required to stage a game would have to be less than any public-gathering restrictions. As college basketball tournaments were canceled this March, many conferences first banned spectators, then canceled games before ever employing that strategy.
"You want to be confident all the individuals that are participating have either no virus and a very low chance," Evans said. "This doesn't make it a short time frame. I'm not saying it's going to be years. I'm just saying there are going to have to be considerations in place as far as making sure the participants are tested. You have to have an understanding where they were, who they were in contact with."
The idea of creating a closed system for self-isolating players may be easier said than done. In a best-case scenario in which the NFL convenes for training camp early enough to start its season on time, what happens if one player tests positive for the coronavirus? In the NBA, one positive test caused the shutdown of the league. Could the NFL justify continuing its season? And could roughly 1,700 football players - plus an army of coaches, scouts and administrative staff - avoid infection?
"I don't know how you let these guys go into locker rooms and let stadiums be filled up and how you can play ball. I just don't know how you can do it with the optics of it," Herbstreit said in an ESPN Radio interview. "Next thing you know, you got a locker room full of guys that are sick. And that's on your watch? I wouldn't want to have that."
For now, all leagues can do is wait out the unknowns and grim figures. Sports can return only once the rest of society stabilizes, and that can happen only if social distancing guidelines are followed. It leaves sports fans in an unusual position: Rarely can they help their favorite teams win; now they might be able to help them play.
"If you want to have football and college athletics in the fall, take care of yourself now," Gee said. "That's probably as good of a message as I can put out right now."
- - -
The Washington Post’s Dave Sheinin, Ben Golliver, Liz Clarke, Mark Maske and Samantha Pell contributed to this report.
Attendance at all three Sunday services was down by about 25% on Sunday, March 15, 2020 at the Cathedral of Saint Mary Catholic Church as worshipers react to the threat of te COVID-19 pandemic. Holy water, sharing on the "sign of peace," and the serving of the "Blood of Christ" were all absent as Sout Florida tried to mitigate and reduce the spread of the deadly virus. (Carl Juste/Miami Herald/TNS) (Carl Juste/)
MIAMI — The archbishop of the largest Catholic archdiocese in Florida has told parishioners there will be no services during Holy Week. Leaders in Orthodox Jewish communities across the state have pleaded with their communities to not allow relatives to travel to Florida for Passover. The pastor of a Hillsborough County mega-church who was arrested for holding services last weekend in violation of a local stay-home order has decided to stay home — for now.
Despite that, Gov. Ron DeSantis made the executive decision to allow religious groups to gather. The decision has drawn criticism from some and created dilemmas for others who believe in the healing power of shared worship but worry that closeness won't also breed harm from the novel coronavirus and the respiratory disease it causes, COVID-19.
"It is not prudent for parishes to plan any activity that would encourage people to leave their homes," wrote Archbishop Thomas Wenski, the archbishop of the Miami diocese, in a statement that was delivered to his priests Wednesday morning.
He ordered them not to conduct any drive-by confessions, no palm pickups in front of church for Palm Sunday, no confession or Holy Communion and no masses on Easter Sunday.
Unlike the archbishop, however, DeSantis refrained from discouraging congregations from gathering and instead simply said that if they gather they should do it in a way that allows the faithful to keep their distance.
"The goal is to reduce contacts with people outside the home," DeSantis said at an in-person press conference Thursday in the Capitol. "It's less important what you do as how you do it."
He said local governments can't shut down a church "but coming up in the Easter season, I think people are going to want to have access."
"There's no reason why you can't do a church service with people 6 feet apart," he said.
Floridians are otherwise forbidden by DeSantis' order to gather in groups of 10 or more for any other purpose and are instructed to practice social distancing at all times, even while engaging with essential functions like grocery shopping or visiting a pharmacy.
After weeks of resisting calls for a stay-home order in Florida, as partying spring breakers became a national symbol of what not to do, DeSantis announced Wednesday that all non-essential businesses and services would be suspended until the end of April.
The order was patterned after the emergency order imposed by Miami-Dade County on March 19, in which the county urged people to stay home. But, because of the First Amendment, which protects people's right to assemble to practice their religion, the county did not prohibit them from gathering.
"This order does not limit the number of persons who may be physically present at any religious service," the Miami-Dade order read. "Persons attending religious services are urged, but are not required, to practice social distancing, such as keeping 6 feet between persons and limiting group size to less than 10 people."
By contrast, the governor's order offered less guidance. It simply said that "essential activities" include: "Attending religious services conducted in churches, synagogues and houses of worship."
Across the nation, headlines have recorded the deadly toll the virus has taken on well-intentioned congregations in other states.
More than 50 members of a church choir in Mount Vernon, Wash., have tested positive for COVID-19, and two died after a choir rehearsal became what epidemiologists call a "super-spreading event," in which a small group of contagious people infect dozens of others.
The public health department in Sacramento County, Calif., which has 172 cases, posted this warning on Tuesday: "Approximately one-third of the confirmed cases in Sacramento County are linked to gatherings related to churches. Sacramento County is urging all residents, from all faiths and all backgrounds to stay home."
And in Albany, Ga., a family funeral has led to more than 24 deaths and 600 cases as a rural community has become home to one of the most intense clusters of the COVID-19 outbreak in the country.
April 8 is the first day of Passover, the eight-day Jewish holiday. And next week corresponds with the holiest week in Christianity, leading up to Easter Sunday. So the exception for churches has many worried.
Rabbi Yossi Harlig, director and spiritual leader of the Chabad Center of Kendall said he hopes that despite the importance of these holidays, people will gather with just immediate family.
"I have families in New York and Brooklyn, and I see what's happening there with so many lives being lost," he said. "I continue to tell our congregants that people should not congregate and everyone should remain in their home.
"Saving a life is the most import thing in the Jewish religion, so rabbis across the world are very strongly opinionated about this," he added. "Based on all studies, separation and isolation would slow it down. Saving one person's life is saving the world."
The Rev. Canon John Tidy of the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida, said his diocese has told congregations "that we remain closed for in-person worship to at least the 15th of May," funerals have to be put on hold, and people should tune into the live-streaming of services their churches are offering.
"I'm glad the governor may have finally woken up," he said. "But the mayors had figured this out long before."
Miami Beach, for example, ordered places of worship to close their doors. In Hillsborough and Osceola counties, officials issued stay-home orders that did not exempt churches and religious organizations.
But tension mounted when the Rev. Rodney Howard-Browne filled his Pentecostal megachurch with hundreds of worshipers during two church services on Sunday. Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister obtained an arrest warrant accusing Howard-Browne of unlawful assembly and violation of public safety rules, both misdemeanors.
Howard-Browne was booked and released on bail the next day and by Thursday had arranged for the Liberty Counsel to prepare a federal lawsuit alleging the county had violated his First Amendment rights.
"They are enforcing this unequally," said Mat Staver, his lawyer. "We have express constitutional rights and we get arrested, but if you go to Home Depot, where you don't have an express constitutional right to sell potted plants and picture frames with no six-foot separation, you get a free pass."
By Thursday, the county reversed course and, following the example of other counties and the governor, listed religious services as "essential activities."
"At this point, we believe it is prudent to take a pause by not opening the church doors this Sunday. This will allow an opportunity for people to take a deep breath and calm down," said Howard-Browne, the pastor of the River at Tampa Bay Church in Riverview in a statement Thursday. He added that because of the publicity, "vitriol and death threats have been directed at us and the church."
But he said he hasn't made a decision about whether to conduct services on Easter Sunday.
"No matter your view on this matter, I encourage you to take a step back and reconsider the options."
Tidy, of the Episcopal diocese, calls the dilemma “a delicate balance.”
"Our first responsibility is for the health and safety of individuals," he said. "If people want to exercise their First Amendment right, they are free to do so, but one has to be mindful of the safety and public welfare of individuals and the wider community. Yes, you can observe sitting six feet apart but there is no point in putting anybody at unnecessary risk because what has become very clear is that we have no idea who is carrying it."
In Miami, where the number of cases continue to climb, elected officials were critical of the governor's decision to allow religious services without more restrictions..
U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala, a Democrat, said the state's exemption for religious services is "inappropriate and scary."
Democratic state Rep. Nicholas Duran said he has talked to local faith leaders about how to conduct religious services remotely. He said his office plans to help religious leaders set up online services and that the state exemption is a bad idea.
"When I read that exception in there I was scratching my head," Duran said. "It's already known that mass gatherings simply aren't feasible. I think most (religious leaders) will look at that and say, 'I can do better.'"
Andrew Nichols, executive director of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, said his church has found comfort in creative innovation. It has live-streamed Sunday and Wednesday services and reached out personally to every member of the 1,500-member congregation.
“People, especially this time of year, are looking to their faith for hope,” he said. “We’re finding that a lot of people who never would have dreamed of watching a service on TV are engaged. We are making the best of it.”
U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Friday, April 3, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) (Alex Brandon/)
WASHINGTON — The U.S. surgeon general offered some of the starkest warnings yet Sunday as he braced Americans for the worsening fallout from the new coronavirus, warning “this is going to be the hardest and the saddest week of most Americans’ lives, quite frankly." The public was advised separately by the nation’s infectious disease chief to “just buckle down” and that the virus probably won’t be wiped out entirely this year.
The number of people infected in the U.S. has exceeded 300,000, with the death toll climbing past 8,400; more than 3,500 of those deaths are in the state of New York.
Much of the country is under orders to stay home, and federal officials said that have seen signs that people are listening to the message about social distancing. But the Trump administration also is also emphasizing that the worst is yet to come for many communities.
“This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment, only it’s not going to be localized," Surgeon General Jerome Adams said on “Fox News Sunday.” He added: “It’s going to be happening all over the country. And I want America to understand that."
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the coming week is “going to be shocking to some."
“But that’s what is going to happen before it turns around, so just buckle down," Fauci said on CBS's “Face the Nation.”
Fauci said that the rate of new cases will determine whether the United States is putting the worst behind it.
“We’ve seen that in Italy,” Fauci said. “We’re going to hopefully be seeing that in New York very soon and that’s the first sign of that plateau and coming down.”
Fauci also warned that unless the world gets the virus under control, it will “assume a seasonal nature.”
“We need to be prepared that, since it unlikely will be completely eradicated from the planet, that as we get into next season, we may see the beginning of a resurgence," Fauci said. “That’s the reason why we’re pushing so hard in getting our preparedness much better than it was.”
While most states have adopted restrictions on people's movement, a few states have declined to order residents to stay home. Adams was asked on NBC's “Meet the Press" if they should join the rest of the country.
“Ninety percent of Americans are doing their part, even in the states where they haven’t had a shelter in place," Adams said. “But if you can’t give us 30 days, governors, give us, give us a week, give us what you can, so that we don’t overwhelm our health care systems over this next week."
The “wiener dog” looks rather pathetic next to a stock Steve Meyer built, but at the time it provided a diversion. (Photo by Steve Meyer) (Steve A. Meyer/)
“What do you think?” I said to my hunting partner as I reached across the tent to hand him the piece of wood I had been whittling. He looked at it for a minute and said, “It looks like a hot dog with a tail.”
Well, I thought, at least I’m in the ballpark. It was supposed to be a wiener dog, and didn’t he notice the legs? “I thought it was just a lumpy hotdog,” he said.
We were on an impromptu caribou hunt in mid-December, a surprise opportunity for some winter meat. The plan was a quick trip through Lake Clark pass to a small lake where the pilot would drop us for two days.
The weather window appeared good but brief. It held and we got our caribou the next morning. A storm had arrived around midnight, and we woke up draped in nylon. The wind had blown the tent flat, and rain mixed with snow came in blasts.
A midnight move up to a couple of stunted black spruce, where we anchored the tent, left us comfortable and waiting. Not an unusual turn of events in Alaska and a situation hunters prepare for.
Except for this time, I didn’t. The books I had set out to bring along were right where I left them, along with the coffee, when I returned.
Repeat reading of books is normal for me. It seems I always find things I missed the first time. Not so much with a bread sack, the only reading material we had; ingredients are not that fascinating, particularly with a caffeine withdrawal headache.
We hadn’t brought cards, another staple for passing time. We were reduced to the options of staring at each other, neither of us being attractive enough for that to last long, or napping. My partner had no trouble napping; sort of like a damn dog, he could sleep anywhere. I cannot. I was the weird kid in kindergarten who sat up and stared at everyone else who was drooling on their mats at nap time. I’m sure the teacher was relieved when my class moved on to first grade.
Usefulness is a critical element to the human condition, and I struggled with what I might do to pass the time in a productive way when I remembered there were some small dead limbs where we dug out for the tent. I went out and found a couple of them, and with my pocket knife was ready to weather the storm and be useful.
It was while digging around the shop for wood scrapers and checkering tools, thinking I would do some long-overdue stock re-finishing and re-cut some checkering while enduring the sequester time between hunting and fishing outings, that I came across the “lumpy hot dog” I had forgotten about.
While reminiscing over the awful carving, the significant role wood has played in my life occurred to me.
Re-cutting old checkering is a therapeutic way to spend a week. (Photo by Steve Meyer) (Steve A. Meyer/)
As a toddler, the first chore I remember was from outings where there was a campfire. I would run around picking up small sticks for tinder and the biggest sticks I could carry once the fire was started. It wasn’t a chore; it was a delightful occupation for a kid to be useful and enjoy the results of the labor.
The gathering of firewood and tending the campfire remains one of life’s genuine pleasures. I enjoy camping where others have been before us and the area appears picked clean of fuel for a campfire. The challenge to find wood and keep the fire going is a worthy course.
While growing up, my father always had some sort of winter project that involved gunstock work. He would re-finish old stocks or build custom stocks from semi-inletted and shaped blanks. I watched his every move, and by age 10, I was re-finishing stocks of my own.
Factory finishes on wood stocks being what they are, you can almost always find beauty in the wood grain hidden beneath the finished surface of walnut. The hours and days spent in front of the woodstove hand-rubbing an oil finish into a favorite gunstock and watching as each coat brings out more character in the wood is reward enough for the effort.
That led to learning to inlet, shape and checker gunstocks, and a lifetime of bringing out the best in pieces of wood for myself and on occasion others. In a rewarding twist, the person who brought this craft to me — my dad — later requested I build a stock for one of his big-game rifles.
There is a cathartic quality to working with wood that can be found most anywhere. The cutting, hauling, splitting and stacking of firewood is particularly therapeutic, not to mention the heat it provides.
Gathering firewood msy not be relaxing for the body, but it soothes the soul. (Photo by Steve Meyer) (Steve A. Meyer/)
A day spent on snowshoes, finding suitable trees, felling them and hauling them out by sled and willpower, brings satisfaction that may be unmatched in the world of working with your hands.
While it isn’t a cerebral endeavor, it isn’t mindless either. Felling the tree where you want it is challenging at times. The splitting of wood becomes a bit of a science and an art form. Years of experience lends one the ability to look at a chunk of wood and figure out where the knots are and where to strike and split with the splitting maul.
And there are health benefits. Spend a day cutting, hauling, splitting and stacking a cord of firewood, and you’ve had a full-body workout in the outdoors, where ventilation is as good as it can be, and there is no charge for the realism.
For the rural residents of the Scandinavian countries, firewood is their lifeblood. They have perfected the methods of gathering, splitting, stacking, drying and burning firewood to the degree that wood smoke pollution is minimal. It is a highly valued cultural aspect of their society.
In Scandinavia, it is said that the way to choose a partner is to look at their woodpile. It will tell you all you need to know about them at a glance. If your woodpile is anything but neat, clean and dry, you might spend a lot of years alone in a place where wood is as important as food.
I doubt I’ll ever forget to bring a book on a fly-in hunt again, but if I do I’m sure there will be a chunk of wood to whittle, maybe one large enough to give the next wiener dog real legs.
Steve Meyer is a longtime Alaskan and avid shooter who lives in Kenai.
Nick Cassese puts cremated remains in a hearse outside the Fresh Pond Crematory and Columbarium in Middle Village, N.Y., a stately yellow brick building from 1884 in the New York City borough of Queens. Photo by Ryan Christopher Jones for The Washington Post
ELMHURST, N.Y. - The phone began ringing before the front doors were open.
"Neufeld Funeral Home, how can I help you?" said Joe Neufeld Jr., still in shorts and a T-shirt and operating on little sleep. "Yes. OK. And what was your father's name?"
The days were blurring together and now another was underway at the small brick building with the faded maroon awning in the Elmhurst neighborhood of New York City - "The epicenter of the epicenter," as Joe's father described their increasingly dire position.
As the nation was hearing about the possibility of 100,000 deaths in the coming months from the coronavirus pandemic, this was the place where those deaths were already mounting. Nowhere in the nation was worse off than New York City, and nowhere in the city was worse off than the part of Queens called Elmhurst, where the hospital was overwhelmed with patients, and the nearest funeral home was learning lessons that will be coming soon to cities and towns across the country as the death phase of the pandemic intensifies.
"We are your future," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo had been saying to the rest of the nation in press briefings day after day, and meanwhile, Joe Jr. was saying into the phone, "Yes, we are going to get him over there to cremation today."
It was only 9 a.m. and already, Joe Jr., his father Joe Sr., and the two other employees were busier than the whole week before, when they'd handled their first two coronavirus-related deaths with all the dignity expected of a funeral home with 80 years in the business. In the days after that came two more calls, and more after that, and now there were five covid-19 bodies in a backroom waiting to be prepared for burial or cremation, another 10 waiting to be picked up from hospitals, and in a small front office, the phone was ringing again.
Joe Neufeld Sr., center, takes a call as his son Joe Jr., right, and Nick Cassese do paperwork at Gerard J. Neufeld Funeral Home in Elmhurst, N.Y. Deaths related to the coronavirus have brought a surge of calls, and the pandemic has put greater strain on Joe Sr. as funeral director. Photo by Ryan Christopher Jones for The Washington Post
“Neufeld Funeral Home, how can I help you?” said Joe Jr. It was a colleague from another funeral home. “Thank you - very kind of you. Um, busy. Yeah. And plenty more since.”
He was sitting at a computer, the phone tucked under his chin as he typed names into the city's online system for death certificates, permits for retrieval, burial and cremation - documents that normally took a few hours to obtain and were now starting to take days.
The first hint of the growing backup had come two days before, when the funeral home had gotten a call about a man who'd died of coronavirus at home. The call had come at 7:30 in the morning and 12 hours later, Joe Jr. was still trying to get the medical examiner's clearance to retrieve the body and calm the man's distraught family, who kept calling every hour saying, "He's still here, please come."
"This is a disgrace," Joe Jr. had been saying to himself more and more, and today was only getting worse.
"Neufeld Funeral Home," said Omar Rodriguez, who usually does embalmings. "Did he die in the hospital or home? The hospital usually gives us 72 hours, but now they're antsy to get the bodies out."
He took down the name, and then faced the fact that he had three bodies to embalm and a dwindling inventory of supplies.
"Were they able to send all the chemicals?" Joe Jr. asked him.
"I texted my Dis-Spray guy, and he said he could only get us one case," said Omar, referring to the disinfectant that was supposed to be used for covid-19 deaths.
The phone rang, and a moment later, the front doorbell rang, and into the lobby came a family arriving for the viewing of a relative who had died of a cause other than covid-19, and the last attempt by Neufeld to conduct a viewing as it always had.
"Did you get the nail polish?" said Omar, looking through a box of makeup. "They wanted it orangish."
"Joey couldn't get to the store yesterday," his father said. "There was a line to get into Walgreens."
He went into the lobby to greet the family. Joe Jr. began printing the El Niño Divino prayer cards he’d forgotten, then slipped into a room to put on his black suit, white shirt and tie.
It was just after 10 a.m., and along a folding table, fresh intake forms were piling up - cremations on one side, burials on the other, almost all of them covid-19 cases, including two whose families asked to have a viewing, which Joe Sr. had OK’d despite his growing unease.
Omar took a bottle of disinfectant and sprayed the chair where Joe Jr. had been sitting and the table where there was a fax machine and a letter coming over it from a company that helped transport and embalm bodies for funeral homes during busy times.
"Effective immediately," it read. "Please understand that this policy is not something that we are taking lightly. It has come about only with an abundance of caution and someone has to fire the first shot in a war. We are no longer embalming remains unless it is required by law. . . . We will not transport hospital deaths. . . . We currently do not have facilities to hold the number of deaths we are experiencing."
Nick Cassese moves a casket with a man's body inside to a waiting hearse at Gerard J. Neufeld Funeral Home in Elmhurst, N.Y. Photo by Ryan Christopher Jones for The Washington Post
“I knew that was coming,” said Omar, realizing that transporting those bodies would now be solely up to them, and at this moment, there were 10 and counting. The phone rang.
"Neufeld Funeral Home," said Joe Jr. "Yes, I had called because I wanted to get information for your father? Your uncle, I'm sorry. I'm sorry."
The phone rang.
"Hello, Neufeld Funeral Home. Yes, what was the name again?" Joe Jr. said, checking the computer. "I don't have the death certificates yet. I will have them tomorrow. Tomorrow you can come anytime you want after 10 a.m. Yes, dear. You take care."
The phone rang.
"Un momento, por favor," Joe Jr. said, handing the phone to Omar.
"Sí, sí," said Omar, and when he hung up, he told Joe Jr: "OK. His body is at Montefiore. He's covid. He's going to speak to the family but it's probably a direct."
A direct: More and more, this is what the surging death phase was becoming in New York City. The funeral home would retrieve the body from the hospital, bring it to the funeral home, transfer the body to a cremation box, do the necessary paperwork, and drive it directly to the crematorium where families were no longer allowed to hold services. No funeral, no viewing, no visitation. Death without ritual.
The phone rang.
"Yeah," said Joe Sr. "Oh no."
It was Nick Cassese, the fourth member of the Neufeld team, who was at a hospital picking up two bodies, and explaining that one of those bodies weighed 400 pounds, and had covid-19, and that because the hospital had run out of the sturdier "disaster pouches" with handles, they had used a flimsier body bag, and because everyone was too busy to help him, the bag had torn when he had tried to move the body.
"Yeah," Joe continued, shaking his head. The family had requested a viewing, but Joe was starting to see too many problems with that: covid-19, the size, moving the body onto a table. "OK. I'm going to have to call the family and tell them we can't do what they want to do."
He sighed. He rubbed his face. He picked up the phone.
"Yes, it's Neufeld Funeral Home. Listen, I'm really sorry, but we're going to have to change things up. We're not going to be able to have the viewing," Joe said, and on the other end of the call, there was the sound of wailing. "What? OK. OK. I don't mean to upset you. We can talk about what we can do. Right. OK. Let me call you back."
The phone rang. It was Nick again, saying that because everything was so confusing at the hospital, the names had gotten mixed up.
"Oh jeez," Joe said, shaking his head. "I'm going to have to call the family back. I'll tell them we're sorry. I'll tell them we made a terrible mistake."
Outside, there was the sound of sirens heading to and from the hospital.
Inside, it was becoming more and more difficult to maintain anything like the usual order.
The phone rang.
"Another one," Omar said.
The phone rang.
"Not really," Joe Sr. said. "Everything is closed down. The cemetery is not letting anybody in. No real wakes anymore because everybody's sick. Not a lot of chances to have a burial or even a cremation ceremony because of the overwhelming volume. Yeah, they're not letting anyone in. No priests. No deacons. OK. Yes. You're welcome."
The front doorbell rang, and into the foyer came a young man wearing a bandanna over his face, and his mother holding a bottle of Clorox spray in one hand and a plastic bag in the other containing a tuxedo for her brother. He had died of covid-19 three days earlier and she was hoping there could still be a viewing.
"Hi folks, come on in," Joe said, and meanwhile, Joe Jr. put on a mask and gloves, cleared out the back of his Dodge van and headed over to Elmhurst Hospital.
He drove past empty sidewalks, yellow cabs in driveways and people wearing masks. He turned the corner and passed a sea of ambulances parked at haphazard angles by the emergency room. He turned another corner and passed rows of metal barricades where masked people were lining up for virus testing. He turned again and pulled in through the black wrought iron gates of the hospital's morgue area and tried to orient himself in the changed landscape.
There had been one white refrigeration truck the day before, and now there were two. He figured out where to park, rolled out his stretcher, went inside the morgue office and then inside one of the refrigerated trucks. Ten minutes passed, then 15, and soon, he was backing out his van with two bodies in doubled-up body bags, and when he got back to the funeral home, Nick had returned too.
"It's just crazy," Nick said, shaking his head at what he had seen at the hospital where he had picked up the bodies.
"The hospital's been tagging them and putting which trailer they're in," Joe Jr. said, pain in his voice, describing the hospital where he had been. "And then you got to go in there and just find the one you're looking for. It's packed to the gills with bodies. You got to be careful where you step."
They stood there a moment saying nothing, and then the phone rang, and the front doorbell rang, and now Omar was sitting with a man in a mask and a Windbreaker, explaining the documents he had to sign.
"The crematory will probably take some time, probably until next Monday," he said, writing down a date that was one week away because the crematoriums were getting booked.
It was near 2 p.m.
There were nine bodies downstairs and still more to pick up.
The phone rang.
Nick and Joe Jr. prepare a casket for an increasingly rare viewing. "I'm stopping the viewings," Joe Sr. said. "The danger is too much. I want to help these families, but it's gotten too much. Just the ones we promised and that's it." Photo by Ryan Christopher Jones for The Washington Post
“This is Joe Sr.” Joe said, and now the doorbell rang again, and a man in jeans and a bicycle helmet came inside and sat in the lobby, waiting alone until Joe Jr. finally saw him and remembered why he was there. The case was a direct, but he had promised the man he could have a moment to see his father-in-law, and now he showed him into Room C.
"Sir, we're all set for you, I'm sorry for the delay," he said. "I just exposed the face. You can take your time. Please, make yourself comfortable."
The man went in and stood six feet away from the body. He said a prayer. He took a photograph. He went back into the lobby and asked about the death certificates.
"Yes, sorry - I'll have them tomorrow," Joe Jr. said. "We just had a lot going on. I'll call you when I have the ashes and the certificates."
He went back into the office, typed in some more names, and tried to get organized.
He checked the system for a death certificate he had been waiting on for three days.
He called a hospital and tried to verify that they had the body of man whose family had called earlier but the hospital said no, they did not have it, and when he called another hospital they said no, and he figured that all the doctors and nurses were so overwhelmed that they were probably delayed in entering names into the computer. He pulled down his mask and called the family.
"Hi, I'm sorry to bother you but the information I was given is that your father passed away at Jamaica Hospital? And not Queens Hospital that's in Jamaica?" he said, and when he got off the phone, he pulled his mask off altogether.
"These freakin' things," he said.
He took a deep breath. Omar came in.
"I've got another one," he said.
It was late afternoon, and they looked at the folding table covered with intake forms, and tried to tally the cases.
"Covid," Joe Jr. began, looking at a name. "Not covid," he said, looking at the next one. "Covid, covid, covid, not covid. Maybe covid. This one is covid, this is covid. Covid, covid, covid, covid."
"I have two covids," said Nick.
They kept counting.
"I got 18, plus those still in limbo," said Nick.
"So, that's 21 possibly?" said Joe Jr.
"Christ have mercy," said Omar.
Joe Sr. came into the back and looked at the growing list.
"That's it," he said, thinking about all the requests for viewings, picturing the funeral home filling with mourners again and again, mourners themselves possibly infected. "I'm stopping the viewings. The danger is too much. I want to help these families, but it's gotten too much. Just the ones we promised and that's it."
From now on, the cases would be directs only - except even that was becoming a problem as the two crematoriums in the area could only perform so many cremations per day. The funeral home had almost no refrigeration capacity to hold bodies, which was not a problem when things were operating normally and the hospital morgue could keep a body until the funeral home was ready for it. But now the morgues were full, the refrigeration trucks were filling, the bodies the funeral home was receiving increasingly had nowhere to go, and Joe Jr. was starting to understand that the handling of death in the coming weeks would necessarily become cruder.
"We need to move these bodies," he said now.
He and Nick cleared out the backs of their two Dodge vans. They wheeled out four cardboard boxes stamped with the words "Handle with Extreme Care" and loaded them into the back. They belted them into place and tucked the documents under the belts, along with $10 tips for the beleaguered crematory workers and now Joe Jr. was driving across the empty streets of Queens.
He turned onto a two-lane road that ran through two cemeteries, and finally reached the Fresh Pond Crematory and Columbarium, a stately yellow brick building from 1884. Normally, he'd be driving a hearse, followed by a procession of family members who would gather at the chapel inside to say their goodbyes.
Instead, he pulled his Dodge around to a door at the back of the building, wheeled out his two boxes and handed some documents to the two workers at the door, who were arguing.
"Just do your job," one of them was saying.
"This is a crazy rush," the other said. "This is not normal. You give me four bodies at a time and expect me to sweep out too? There's only so much I can do."
"Take care guys," Joe Jr. said and then headed back to the funeral home, which should have been closed by now, only the phone was still ringing, and Joe Sr. was at his desk, thinking about the lesson he had learned on this day coming soon to everywhere else.
“It’s too many,” he said.
Michael Atkinson, the inspector general of the intelligence community, arrives at the Capitol Oct. 4, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) (J. Scott Applewhite/)
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump suggested that he fired the inspector general for the intelligence community in retaliation for impeachment, saying the official was wrong to provide an anonymous whistleblower complaint to Congress as the law requires.
Trump called Michael Atkinson a "disgrace" after informing Congress late Friday night that he intended to fire him. In letters to the House and Senate intelligence committees, Trump wrote that he had lost confidence in Atkinson but gave little detail.
A day later, Trump was more blunt, telling reporters at the White House: "I thought he did a terrible job, absolutely terrible." The president added: "He took a fake report and he took it to Congress with an emergency, OK? Not a big Trump fan, that I can tell you."
The whistleblower report was not fake, but a detailed complaint written by an anonymous intelligence official who described Trump's pressure on Ukraine to investigate Democrat Joe Biden and his son. Atkinson determined the complaint was urgent and credible and therefore was required by law to disclose it to Congress, but he was overruled for weeks by the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire.
After a firestorm sparked by media reports of the complaint, it was turned over and made public. A congressional inquiry led to Trump's impeachment by the House in December. The GOP-led Senate acquitted Trump in February.
On Saturday, Trump questioned why Atkinson didn't speak to him about the complaint, though Atkinson's role is to provide independent oversight.
"Never came in to see me, never requested to see me," Trump said. He added: "That man is a disgrace to IGs."
Atkinson's removal is part of a larger shakeup of the intelligence community under Trump, who has always viewed intelligence professionals with skepticism. His ouster came under immediate fire from Democrats and a handful of Republicans.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Iowa Republican who leads the Finance Committee, said that Congress has been "crystal clear" that written reasons must be given when inspectors general are removed for a lack of confidence.
"More details are needed from the administration," Grassley said.
Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a GOP member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said she didn't find Trump's reasoning in his Friday letter to be persuasive, and said Atkinson's removal "was not warranted." Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., said an inspector general "must be allowed to conduct his or her work independent of internal or external pressure."
Trump's criticism Saturday came after Atkinson's peers had rushed to his defense. Michael Horowitz, the inspector general at the Justice Department, said Atkinson was known for his "integrity, professionalism, and commitment to the rule of law and independent oversight." He said that included Atkinson's actions in handling the Ukraine whistleblower complaint.
Asked during his daily coronavirus briefing about firing Atkinson, Trump returned to his attacks on the Democratic-led impeachment investigation and trial and his defense that his phone call with Ukraine's president was "perfect" but had been inaccurately described in the whistleblower's account. In fact, the partial transcript later released by the president largely supported the whistleblower's account.
Atkinson is at least the seventh intelligence official to be fired, ousted or moved aside since last summer. In his letters to the intelligence committees informing them of the firing, which were obtained by The Associated Press, Trump said that it is "vital" that he has confidence in the appointees serving as inspectors general, and "that is no longer the case with regard to this inspector general."
Trump said Atkinson would be removed from office in 30 days, the required amount of time he must wait after informing Congress. He wrote that he would nominate an individual "who has my full confidence" at a later date.
According to two congressional officials, Atkinson has been placed on administrative leave, meaning he will not serve out the 30 days. One of the officials said Atkinson was only informed of his removal on Friday night. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because Atkinson's administrative leave had not been announced.
Atkinson's firing thrusts the president's impeachment back into the spotlight as his administration deals with the deadly spread of the coronavirus. As Trump was removing Atkinson, the number of U.S. deaths due to the virus topped 7,000. By the time of his remarks Saturday, it was over 8,100.
The top Democrat on the Senate intelligence panel, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, said it was unconscionable that Trump would fire Atkinson in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
"We should all be deeply disturbed by ongoing attempts to politicize the nation's intelligence agencies," Warner said.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who led the House impeachment inquiry, said "the president's dead of night decision puts our country and national security at even greater risk." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the firing "threatens to have a chilling effect against all willing to speak truth to power." And Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Trump "fires people for telling the truth."
Tom Monheim, a career intelligence professional, will become the acting inspector general for the intelligence community, according to an intelligence official who was not authorized to discuss personnel changes and spoke only on condition of anonymity. Monheim is currently the general counsel of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.
Atkinson had hinted of frustration on the job in a March letter to Schumer, in which he said "the past six months have been a searing time for whistleblowers." Atkinson was responding to a letter Schumer had sent to agency inspectors general asking them to document and investigate any instances of retaliation after Trump had threatened the anonymous whistleblower.
In the letter to Schumer, obtained by the AP, Atkinson said support for whistleblowers would be rendered meaningless if "whistleblowers actually come forward in good faith with information concerning an extraordinary matter and are allowed to be vilified, threatened, publicly ridiculed, or — perhaps even worse, utterly abandoned by fair weather whistleblower champions."
Late Saturday, Schumer tweeted that he had spoken to Atkinson and thanked him for his service. Schumer said he told Atkinson that “history will remember him as a hero and those who retaliated against him as scoundrels.”
WASHINGTON — While Wisconsin struggles to hold its primary on Tuesday, President Donald Trump and Democrats are bickering over how to provide voters with safe and secure access to a ballot as the coronavirus pandemic rages in the U.S. and threatens to extend into the fall, affecting the general election.
With another economic rescue package in the works, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she wants money to give more voters the chance to cast their ballot by mail, an option that would allow people to vote without the concern over the safety of polling places.
But Trump opposes voting by mail and is leading Republicans in a battle to limit its use, arguing that it would encourage fraud and lead to so many people voting that his party could not win.
But the 2020 presidential election is creeping ever closer, and there are no signs yet of the pandemic abating, nor any word on when Americans on orders to stay home can resume normal life, so lawmakers are trying to figure out how to allow for voting in a world where face-to-face contact causes anxiety at the least and possibly sickness and death.
The debate is playing out now in Wisconsin. It stands apart from other states that have delayed primaries because of the virus, though Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has issued a statewide stay-at-home order.
Evers initially joined Republican leaders in seeking to hold the primary as planned on Tuesday, but he now favors an all-mail election with absentee voting well into May. Republicans maintain that in-person voting should go on as planned and have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to block extended absentee voting.
The election features the Democratic presidential primary between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, but a bigger concern for Republicans is a state Supreme Court race that pits a conservative incumbent against a liberal challenger.
In recent weeks, as Democrats nationwide have argued the country must prepare for voting largely by mail, Republicans have objected to or blocked expansions of such voting in Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania.
“It shouldn’t be mail-in voting. It should be you go to a booth and you proudly display yourself,” Trump told reporters Friday evening. Earlier this week on Fox News Channel's “Fox & Friends,” he claimed the Democrats had a plan “that if you ever agreed to it you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”
More than 290,000 people in the United States have tested positive for the virus so far, prompting more than a dozen states to delay their presidential primaries. Health officials are warning that the virus has the potential to return with a second wave during the next flu season, putting voters and poll workers in a dilemma where fulfilling a civic duty means putting their health at greater risk.
Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington already provide registered voters with a ballot in the mail for all their elections, according to a Congressional Research Service report. California and Utah are among the states that give counties the option of mail-in voting.
Proponents say it can improve participation, particularly with voters who have to work on election day, go to school or have mobility issues, such as the elderly or the sick. It could reduce the number of poll workers needed, as well as the long lines that often arise during a presidential election.
“It just makes us more democratic,” Pelosi told reporters this week. “It just gives more people the opportunity to vote. So that is something we would like to see.”
Trump contends fraud would increase with more mail-in voting, declaring, "I think a lot of people cheat.”
A North Carolina congressional election had to be rerun last year because the Republican candidate’s campaign had engaged in widespread fraud through mail ballots.
But some Republicans have come to embrace the format, arguing it can be done securely and is cheaper and fairer than in-person elections. Utah, a GOP stronghold, is a recent convert to mail-in voting.
Evidence shows it is Republicans, rather than Democrats, who are most likely to vote by mail, said Michael McDonald, a University of Florida professor who tracks balloting.
State and local governments are responsible for determining whether or how to offer mail-in voting. A few bills introduced during the current session of Congress would require states to allow for early or mail-in voting for federal elections. Others would require states to allow mail-in voting during national emergencies and authorize the funds to help defray the costs.
The $2.2 trillion rescue package that Congress passed included $400 million for states to invest in the next election so they could expand early voting, move to mail-in voting, or increase safety measures at polling sites.
That’s a meager investment compared with the $2 billion that the Brennan Center for Justice recently said is needed to ensure the pandemic does not jeopardize a free and fair election.
NEW YORK — The New York governor said Saturday the Chinese government was facilitating a shipment of 1,000 donated ventilators to his state, highlighting the extreme measures leaders are taking in what has become a cutthroat scramble to independently secure enough lifesaving devices during the coronavirus pandemic.
In a sign of the disorganized response to the global crisis, Gov. Andrew Cuomo praised the Chinese government for its help in securing the shipment of the breathing machines that was scheduled to arrive at Kennedy Airport on Saturday, while acknowledging that the U.S. government’s stockpile of medical supplies would fall drastically short.
“We’re all in the same battle here,” Cuomo said, noting that the state of Oregon also volunteered to send 140 ventilators to New York. “And the battle is stopping the spread of the virus.”
The rush to secure supplies has prompted intense squabbling between the states and federal government at a moment the nation is facing one of its gravest emergencies. Leaders like Cuomo have been forced to go outside normal channels and work with authoritarian governments and private companies.
Trump said states are making inflated requests for medical supplies when the need isn’t there and suggested he had a hand in the ventilator shipment arriving from China to New York. Trump also said he’d like to hear a more resounding “thank you” from Cuomo for providing medical supplies and helping quickly to add hospital capacity. Cuomo acknowledged he asked the White House and others for help negotiating the ventilators.
“We have given the governor of New York more than anybody has ever been given in a long time,” Trump told reporters in Washington.
While the state of Massachusetts used the New England Patriots’ team plane to pick up over a million masks from China, Russia has also sent medical equipment to the U.S. Meanwhile, Trump has said he’d prevent the export of N95 protective masks to Canada and other nations, prompting a rebuke from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who said his country won’t bring retaliatory measures as it continues to ship gloves and testing kits to the U.S.
The number of people infected in the U.S. has exceeded 300,000, with the death toll climbing past 8,400; more than 3,500 of those deaths are in New York state, including more than 1,900 in New York City. In addition to getting ventilators from China and Oregon, Cuomo ordered private hospitals in the state to redistribute breathing machines to those most in need.
“I want this all to be over,” Cuomo said, noting that while it’s been roughly 30 days since the state’s first case, “it feels like an entire lifetime.”
Trump said the federal government is setting up a 2,500-bed field hospital at New York’s Javits Convention Center that will be staffed by the military. He said similar hospital projects are being built in Louisiana and Dallas.
“There will be a lot of death, unfortunately, but a lot less death than if this wasn’t done,” Trump said. He later added that the federal government is “a backup ... the greatest backup that ever existed for the states.”
As the number of people infected has grown to more than 1.1 million worldwide, health care systems are straining under the surge of patients. In China, air raid sirens sounded across the country Saturday and flags flew at half staff in tribute to victims of the coronavirus pandemic, including the health care “martyrs” who have died fighting to save others.
With the highest number of infections in Europe and their hospitals overwhelmed, Spain and Italy struggled to protect medical staff on the front lines, while 17 medics in Egypt’s main cancer hospital tested positive for the virus.
Italy and Spain, with combined deaths of more than 25,000 and nearly a quarter-million infections, have reported a high percentage of infections among health care workers.
Carlo Palermo, head of Italy’s hospital doctors’ union, fought tears as he told reporters in Rome of the physical risks and psychological trauma the outbreak is causing, noting reports that two nurses had killed themselves.
“It’s a indescribable condition of stress. Unbearable,” he said.
Overall, new infections continued to slow their once-exponential pace in Italy, with 4,805 new cases registered Saturday that brought the country’s official count to 124,632. The death toll continued to mount, with 681 new victims bringing the world’s highest toll to 15,362.
In France, 7,560 people have died of coronavirus-related issues including at least 2,028 in nursing homes, health director Jerome Salomon said. More than 440 of the overall deaths happened in the last 24 hours.
In the U.S., the outbreak is deepening in other areas beyond New York. More than 400 people have died in Louisiana, and state authorities have been sprinting to find ventilators similar to New York. Michigan has more than 14,000 infections and 500 deaths, with Detroit being the state’s epicenter.
With the arrival of the weekend and spring weather, many Americans struggled to adhere to social distancing and stay-at-home orders that cover most of the country. The sheriff in San Diego issued about two dozen citations to people, saying violators were breaking the rules by having picnics near the beach.
And officials from the major sports leagues had a phone call with Trump about resuming competition. Asked if he thought the NFL season would start on time in September with fans in the stands, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, said: “I’m not anticipating that happening in this state.”
In China, where the coronavirus was first detected in December, authorities have cautiously lifted restrictions amid dropping numbers of infections. On Sunday the government reported just 30 new coronavirus cases, including 25 people who had arrived from overseas. The other five were in the southern province of Guangdong, which borders Hong Kong. There were three new deaths for an official total of 3,329.
Spain’s Health Ministry reported 18,324 infected health workers as of Saturday, representing 15% of the total number of infections in the country.
As Spain completes its third week in a state of emergency, there were signs the number of new infections were slowing. But they were still high, with 7,026 new cases reported overnight Saturday and 809 deaths.
Worldwide, confirmed infections rose past 1.1 million and deaths exceeded 63,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Experts say both greatly under-count the true number of victims because of lack of testing, mild cases that were missed and governments that are underplaying the crisis.
At the same time, more than 233,000 people have recovered from the virus, which causes mild to moderate symptoms such as fever and cough in most patients, who recover within a few weeks. But for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
Dear Wayne and Wanda,
Well I picked the wrong time to re-enter the dating pool. First off, I was married for 20 years and finally got divorced at age 40. I didn’t date right away — I needed some “me time,” frankly. A couple of years later, I am feeling completely ready to spend some quality time with a guy.
I’m on two dating apps. One app is more serious, with people professing to be looking for partners. The other is more of a hook-up app. Right away, on the serious app, I connected with “Jeff,” and we had an amazing first date. He kissed me goodnight, and it was amazing! He was leaving the next morning for a business trip and we made dinner plans for when he got back. I was still also talking to several other guys online via the less-serious app.
And then everything hit the fan. While Jeff was gone, Anchorage started going into lockdown over coronavirus, and by the time he got back, I was working from home, social distancing to the extreme. Obviously Jeff and I can’t go on dates now. He texts a lot and says he has “a feeling” about us and he doesn’t want the current state of things to throw us off. Things are very chaste and feel serious. Meanwhile, my flirty partner from the other app has been blowing me up, sending some pretty hot pics and trying to get me to engage in some pretty tantalizing texts.
I almost feel like I’m being unfaithful to Jeff with this sideline banter; but Jeff and I only had one date! And I need what I can get right now — I live alone, quarantine is lonely! Am I a horrible person for keeping up this flirty texting while Jeff is trying to keep our spark alive?
In the movie “Almost Famous,” band fan Penny Lane frequently uses the phrase, “If this was the real world,” meaning if she and her pals weren’t living the fantasy life of rock stars, perhaps things would be different. Toward the end, antihero William is finally exasperated enough to point out, “This is the real world.” And so I will say to you, girlfriend, this world we’re living in, however strange it is? This is the real world.
If things hadn’t taken a viral wrong turn, who knows where you and Jeff might be right now? You could be on date five, already dreaming of cohabitation and dream vacations; or things might have dramatically nose-dived after date two, when he confessed to believing in tin-hat conspiracy theories, or you realized the way he loudly chews his food drives you crazy. There’s just no way to know. Because that’s not the world we’re in now. In this world, this real world, if you want to move a relationship forward and explore a serious connection, you’re going to have to get seriously creative and learn how to use FaceTime and Zoom to your benefit.
Some things have changed dramatically in these past few weeks. Some things shouldn’t change at all — like your morals, your values, and your general beliefs about the right way to treat people. You’ve got two games in play here and you need to decide which course to take: pursue a deeper connection to Jeff, or liven up the lonely nights with some salacious sexting.
Pretty sure the norms and unwritten rules of online dating go out the window when we hit quarantine mode. Heck, online dating communication is unexpected and uninhibited during regular times, but in our suddenly crazy world everyone’s bored out of their minds and dying of thirst. Singles, creepers and philanderers alike are casting their nets and sliding into DMs far and wide, desperately seeking a reply. Some are seemingly sweet like Jeff, some are riding the fine line of T.M.I. like flirty and dirty dude, some are playing it both ways like you. And you know what: that’s totally cool.
But no matter what plays out virtually over the next few weeks of hunkering down, daily life will (hopefully) get back to normal someday (soon). And when things do stabilize, it will be like the lights coming on at the club at 2:30 a.m. Everyone will be faced with the big, bright, harsh realities of all the things they’ve said and all the decisions they made when the room was dark, the music was pumping, the drinks were flowing, and the club was going wild.
When the stay-at-home orders start lifting and the bars and restaurants start opening and you are finally cleared to safely meet up and make out again, what position do you want to be in? Feeling guilty? Feeling like ghosting? Feeling fine and ready to wine and dine with a dozen different dudes? Let that thought be your guide as you negotiate the wild waters of messaging in the days/weeks ahead …