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NO GAME TIME: Americans are already staying and working from home, away from family and friends to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. And they’re also being denied one of the great joys of American life as sporting events from baseball to tennis to soccer have been indefinitely suspended.
Athletic games, however, have become one of the most potent breeding grounds for the deadly coronavirus that has caused over 50,000 deaths globally: games are now dangerous mass gatherings of people, packed into stadiums like sardines for hours. Golf’s Master’s Tournament was postponed this week, tennis’s Wimbledon was canceled, and U.S. gymnast Simone Biles cried when she heard the Tokyo Olympics were put on hold until 2021. Baseball’s Opening Day is also off.
‘Contagion disaster’: It was a soccer match in Milan — Bergamo, Italy’s local professional team called Atalanta, against Spain’s Valencia — on February 19 that in turned Lombardy into “one of the worst-hit regions o the planet,” the Wall Street Journal’s Joshua Robinson wrote earlier this week.
- “Atalanta fans were walking into a petri dish. In a single mass gathering, they were about to prove how sporting events could end up at the center of a global pandemic,” per Robinson.
- “By then, the coronavirus was spreading through untold numbers of asymptomatic carriers. Forty thousand bouncing, hugging soccer fans were the perfect vector: Experts are now convinced that Atalanta’s 4-1 win over Valencia was a catalyst in turning Lombardy into one of the worst-hit regions on the planet. The coronavirus was so present inside the stadium that night that once Valencia returned to Spain, 35% of its traveling squad eventually tested positive.”
Stateside, live sports events went dark the week of March 12, shutting down the potential for further amplification of covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Leagues, which are also navigating a financial hit with a major revenue stream on pause, are trying to adjust to the new reality, some providing virtual events or replaying classic matches.
- The WNBA is planning on holding a draft using video conferencing “scheduled to be televised on ESPN at 7 p.m. Eastern time on April 17, with streams from players wherever they are and Engelbert “somewhere in New Jersey, announcing the draft picks live,” per the New York Times’s Howard Megdal.
- The NFL will be doing the same: “Instead of flying to Las Vegas, the top prospects in the 2020 NFL Draft, given the current coronavirus pandemic, will take part in an alternative means of communication when the draft takes place later this month,” CBS Sports’s Bryan DeArdo reports. “With just above three weeks remaining until the start of this year’s draft, the NFL has begun the process of inviting prospects to join them for virtual interviews that will air during the draft, NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported Tuesday night. Over 50 draft prospects are expected to take part in the virtual interviews, which are expected to be conducted via video and other forms of social media.”
- ESPN will air a video game tournament between NBA stars: “Actual, flesh-and-blood NBA players — including top seeds Kevin Durant and Trae Young — will compete in a 16-contestant ‘NBA 2K20’ video game tournament that is set to begin Friday and span eight days, with ESPN broadcasting it, the league announced Tuesday,” per our colleagues Cindy Boren and Des Bieler.
- Starved for live content, ESPN has made adjustments as well: They are “moving up the release of its Michael Jordan documentary ‘The Last Dance’ from June to April. The 10-part series will now begin April 19. The move was announced on Good Morning America on Tuesday in response to fans asking for more programming while sports are on hold because of the coronavirus. The series will be available outside the United States on Netflix.”
We don’t know when things might start humming again, and it’s providing a challenge for coaches and players who need to stay in shape if they have to snap back into a season:
- The NBA, for example, hopes to eventually resume the 2019-2020 season. It’s unclear whether there might be an abbreviated training camp: “There’s training speed, practice speed and game speed. And to take it to another level, there’s game speed and playoffs speed,” Joe Rogowski, the National Basketball Players Association director of sports medicine and research, told San Antonio Express News’s Jonathan Feigen. “It’s hard to go from starting at practice speed and right into game speed or playoff speed, the intensity the playoffs require. You can’t replicate it, but you do the best you can to get to that level.”
- In the category of professional athletes, ‘they’re just like us,’ Peloton has become a go-to for those trying to stayfit remotely: “If social media is any guide, NFL players from the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes to the Browns’ Baker Mayfield to the Dolphins’ Adrian Colbert are among those who have flocked to the Peloton during a time when they are usually ramping up for the start of their teams’ offseason programs. Pro golfers such as Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas and Bubba Watson have issued challenges to each other and invited fans to join them on rides. The Golden State Warriors are even taking group rides, according to the Journal,” per ESPN’s Kevin Seifert.
In the meantime, some teams are finding other ways to make themselves useful during the coronavirus crisis. The New England Patriots’s team plane, for example, made a trip to Shenzhen, China this week to pick up lifesaving equipment to bring back to the U.S. after Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) struck a deal to acquire N95 masks.
- “At 3:38 a.m. Wednesday morning, the New England Patriots’ team plane departed from an unusual locale: Shenzhen, China. On board the Boeing 767, in the cargo hold that used to be home to Tom Brady’s duffel bags, were 1.2 million N95 masks bound for the U.S.,” the Journal’s Andrew Beaton reports.
- “Video and pictures of the event show workers in masks and full-body suits at Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport loading box after box of the scarce and valuable personal protective equipment onto a red, white and blue plane emblazoned with the Patriots logo and ‘6X CHAMPIONS.’”
MORE THAN 10 MILLION PEOPLE FILED FOR UNEMPLOYMENT IN MARCH: “More than 6.6 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week — a record — as political and public health leaders put the economy in a deep freeze, keeping people at home and trying to slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus,” our colleague Heather Long reports.
The sheer size is unlike anything we’ve seen in recent memory:
SMALL BUSINESS LOANS COULD HAVE A ROCKY START TODAY: “The day before the scheduled launch of the federal government’s massive new small-business lending program, banks being tapped to dole out the money questioned whether it was ready to launch,” our colleagues Aaron Gregg and Renae Merle report.
The $349 billion “Paycheck Protection Program” is a key part of the coronavirus rescue package: “Administration officials have said money from the emergency loan fund will start flowing to small businesses affected by the coronavirus outbreak [today], delivering a sharply streamlined, same-day approval process unheard of in the history of federally backed small-business lending,” our colleagues write.
- Some of the biggest banks are also experiencing issues: “JPMorgan Chase, the country’s largest lender, said it did not expect to begin accepting applications for the program [today], as scheduled. Other banks said they were accepting applications but didn’t expect to process or approve them until after the Treasury Department and Small Business Administration finalize rules for the program.”
- No thanks? “Already, some corporate leaders are bristling at the potential terms of the grants and loans authorized by the stimulus legislation President Trump signed last week. Boeing’s chief executive, David Calhoun, for one has suggested that the aerospace company could raise money elsewhere if it found the government’s terms too onerous.” reports the Times’s Peter Eaves, Niraj Chokshi and David Ellis.
Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Americans will begin receiving $1,200 stimulus payments in two weeks. He clarified that people who don’t typically have file tax returns but whose direct deposit information is with the government will get the money without any additional hurdles. And he said a new web portal would be created with simple procedures for those people whose information the government doesn’t have to receive the money.
At The White House
EXPERTS DOUBT THE WHITE HOUSE’S DIRE MATH: “Leading disease forecasters, whose research the White House used to conclude 100,000 to 240,000 people will die nationwide from the coronavirus, were mystified when they saw the administration’s projection this week,” our colleagues William Wan, Josh Dawsey, Ashley Parker and Joel Achenbach report.
The experts said they don’t challenge the numbers’ validity, but that they don’t know how the White House arrived at them: “White House officials have refused to explain how they generated the figure — a death toll bigger than the United States suffered in the Vietnam War or the 9/11 terrorist attacks,” our colleagues write. “They have not provided the underlying data so others can assess its reliability or provided long-term strategies to lower that death count.”
- Key quote: “Some of President Trump’s top advisers have expressed doubts about the estimate, according to three White House officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. There have been fierce debates inside the White House about its accuracy.”
Why is this happening? It seems there’s plenty of confusion and chaos inside the White House directed by a president delivering free-wheeling, contradictory, and ever changing press conferences every evening.
- “Leaders from Maine to Oregon and from Dayton, Ohio, to Austin say their constituents are whipsawed by the contradictory messages emanating each day from the presidential lectern, which exacerbates efforts on the ground to enforce social distancing and mitigate the spread of the virus,” reports The Post’s Philip Rucker and Robert Costa.
- Key quote: “’He at times just says whatever comes to mind, or tweets, then someone on TV is saying the opposite,’” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said in a recent interview. “It’s critically important that the message is straightforward and fact-based for the public.”
Many are puzzled by the hands-off, hands-on approach of President Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner.
- “At one of the most perilous moments in modern American history, Mr. Kushner is trying in a disjointed White House to marshal the forces of government for the war his father-in-law says he is waging. A real estate developer with none of the medical expertise of a public health official nor the mobilization experience of a general, Mr. Kushner has nonetheless become a key player in the response to the pandemic,” write the Times’s Peter Baker, Maggie Haberman, Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Noah Weiland.
- The nub of the problem: “Some officials said Mr. Kushner had mainly added another layer of confusion to that response, while taking credit for changes already in progress and failing to deliver on promised improvements. He promoted a nationwide screening website and a widespread network of drive-through testing sites. Neither materialized. He claimed to have helped narrow the rift between his father-in-law and General Motors in a presidential blowup over ventilator production, one administration official said, but the White House is still struggling to procure enough ventilators and other medical equipment.”
Outside the Beltway
HEADLINES FROM THE HOT SPOTS: Power Up’s continuing look at how the virus is affecting states and cities throughout the country.
What about the remaining states without stay-at-home orders?: Governors in 11 states, mostly in the South and Great Plains, have refused to issue stay-at-home orders, sparking fears that at least some of them may face outbreaks as bad as in New York, our colleagues Isaac Stanley-Becker and Chelsea Janes report.
- Fauci QOTD: “I don’t understand why that’s not happening,” Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, responded to CNN’s Anderson Copper when asked about the holdouts. “If you look at what’s going on in this country, I just don’t understand why we’re not doing that. We really should be.” (Fauci declined to get involved in the politics of whether the federal government should mandate such action, but made clear how he felt).
Georgia became the latest state to issue such an order: Gov. Brian Kemp (R) said on Wednesday that it was a “game changer” the coronavirus could be spread by people before they are symptomatic. Fauci talked about asymptomatic transmission at a White House briefing on Jan. 31 and repeated it again days later.
The highly touted 1,000-bed USNS Comfort only has 20 patients: “… Even as New York hospitals struggled to find space for the thousands infected with the coronavirus. Another Navy hospital ship, the U.S.N.S. Mercy, docked in Los Angeles, has had a total of 15 patients, officials said,” the New York Times’s Michael Schwirtz reports.
- “It’s a joke,” one hospital executive told the Times: “A tangle of military protocols and bureaucratic hurdles has prevented the Comfort from accepting many patients at all,” the Times reports. “On top of its strict rules preventing people infected with the virus from coming on board, the Navy is also refusing to treat a host of other conditions.”
One hospital was so short on gowns it reportedly offered to doctors Yankees ponchos: An outraged doctor at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx posted a viral tweet of poncho emblazoned with the team’s image. The hospital claimed the poncho was a gift of from their neighborhood MLB team, the Times’s Brian M. Rosenthal and James Wagner report.
- But other employees said they really had been told to use it like a gown: “For other hospital employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said they had received bags containing ponchos and were told to use the items in the bags as protective equipment,” the Times reports. The employees refused to do so and instead reused old gowns or grabbed one of the few remaining new ones.
Coronavirus is the most common cause of death in the state: “ … With its steadily increasing death toll each day having surpassed the daily average for the state’s top 10 causes of death combined, according to figures from the state Department of Health,” NJ Advance Media for NJ.com’s Steve Strunsky and Nick Devlin report.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) closed all K-12 schools for in-person learning the remainder of the academic year. She also announced that state is still “a good month out from the apex” of covid-19 cases, the Detroit News’s Beth LeBlanc reports.
A Detroit-based health system is conducting a major study of a drug Trump touted: “Henry Ford Health System is heading up the first large-scale study in the country to find out if a drug commonly used to treat lupus [hydroxychloroquine] can prevent covid-19,” the Detroit News’s Christine Ferretti reports. The five-hospital system is still awaiting FDA approval though, but will start enrolling participants next week.
What the situation looks like nationally:
Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) extended his stay-at-home order to April 30: Louisiana shattered its previous single-day record for cases as the state worked through its testing backlog, the Advocate’s Sam Karlin reports.
Because of the extension, New Orleans’s tourist dependent economy does not expect to reopen until at least June with no business really anticipated for August or September, NOLA.com’s Tyler Bridges reports.
- Key stat: “Of the country’s largest 25 markets, New Orleans suffered the single biggest drop in an important hotel metric, with revenue per available room dropping by 93 percent to just $10.27, according to [national industry analyst, STR].”
Data shows the state is bending the curve, but a surge is still coming: “ On one hand, data show California’s aggressive shelter-in-place order is slowing the spread of the virus and buying time to prepare for a surge of patients, CalMatter’s Emily Hoeven reports, adding, “even with everyone staying home, the number of covid-19 patients is projected to eventually exceed hospital capacity.”
Bay Area officials urge residents to cover their faces in public: Like in New York City, the recommendation comes as the federal government continues to debate whether similar guidance for the country is prudent, the LA Times’s Luke Money and Rong-Gong Lin II report.
WISCONSIN’S PRIMARY IS SHAPING UP TO BE A MESS: “A federal judge declined to postpone Wisconsin’s scheduled April 7 presidential primaries amid widespread worries that holding elections during the coronavirus pandemic could risk public health and curtail access to the polls,” our colleague Amy Gardner reports.
- The judge did extend absentee voting: “[U.S. District Judge William M.] Conley extended the deadline for absentee ballots to be requested by voters from Thursday to Friday, and extended the deadline for completed ballots to be received by local election officials by six days: from 8 p.m. on April 7 to 4 p.m. on April 13,” our colleague writes.
- But that ruling has now led to confusion on when results will be reported: “Under Conley’s order, in-person voting will continue on April 7. But with a return deadline of April 13, voters could theoretically put their ballots in the mail after in-person voting has been concluded and still have it count. Meanwhile, short-staffed election offices may not be able to process the record number of absentee ballots coming in as quickly as usual,” Politico’s Zach Montellaro reports.
The Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee has also been postponed: “The decision to reschedule from July puts the Democratic gathering one week before the Republican convention in Charlotte starting Aug. 24, which both [Trump] and Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel pledged recently will go forward,” our colleagues Michael Scherer and Annie Linskey report.