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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

An Oral History of the Day Everything Changed

In the end, as history will record, the story that would have been the biggest news on Wednesday, March 11—the story that in normal times might have been the biggest headline of the month—will hardly register in America’s memory: That morning, at 11:06 am, a judge sentenced Hollywood super-producer turned super-predator Harvey Weinstein to 23 years in prison on sexual assault charges.

Yet within 12 hours, the staggering fact that Weinstein—the force behind an entire generation of movie classics from Shakespeare in Love to Pulp Fiction—might very well spend the rest of his life in prison turned out not only not to be the biggest story of the day, it wasn’t even the biggest Hollywood story of the day.

Instead, Wednesday, March 11, the 71st day of 2020, proved to be unlike any other in American history—the pivot point on which weeks of winter unease about the looming novel coronavirus turned in a matter of hours into a sudden, wrenching, nation-altering halt to daily life and routine. Just a day earlier, Americans across much of the country were still going into the office, meeting friends for drinks, and shaking hands in meetings. That morning, the number of coronavirus cases in the US crossed the 1,000 mark, up 10-fold from the prior week. Only 29 Americans had died.


But on that Wednesday, the World Health Organization, which had only begun referring to the virus as Covid-19 a month earlier, declared the disease a global pandemic. Every hour seemed to bring major new developments: On Wall Street, after days of huge up-and-down gyrations, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 1,465 points and officially entered bear territory; Capitol Hill faced its first confirmed Covid-19 case; the NCAA announced it would play its basketball tournament without fans; and then, in rapid-fire succession that evening, President Trump gave an Oval Office address, announcing a travel ban from Europe, the NBA suspended its season after player Rudy Gobert tested positive for the virus, and Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita, posted on Instagram that they too had been diagnosed while in Australia and were recuperating.

By Thursday, the national landscape had been undeniably altered, and Americans were panic-buying toilet paper. A whole new vocabulary—WFH, PPE, flattening the curve, social distancing, self-isolation, Zoom-bombing, and quarantinis—loomed ahead. Epochal events that had occurred just weeks earlier, from the Australian wildfires to President Trump’s impeachment trial to the drama of the Democratic primary, would seem instead to have occurred years ago.

Within a month, thousands would be killed by the virus, as hospitals from New York to Detroit to New Orleans were overwhelmed, and more than 100,000 had been sickened. The economy would slide into a virus-induced coma, and some 17.7 million Americans would lose their jobs over the next month—a number larger than the populations of all but four states. Not even Harvey Weinstein would escape the drama: He tested positive for the virus on March 23.

To capture the moment that everything in American life changed—launching us into an uncertain future of unknown duration—WIRED collected the stories and memories of more than 30 people who lived March 11’s drama first-hand, from the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange to a basketball arena in Dallas to Capitol Hill to the airports of Europe. This oral history of a day that America will never forget has been compiled from contemporaneous quotes, social media posts, and original interviews. Quotes have been edited and condensed for clarity. All times listed are for US Eastern Daylight Time, unless otherwise noted.

I. The Days Before

Tom Frieden, former director of the Centers for Disease Control (2009-2017): By the end of January, I was saying this is either going to be bad or it’s going to be very, very bad. All through February, we were all trying to figure out how bad is this going to be?

Peter Tuchman, stock trader, Quattro Securities: We’ve been on a wild tear for a year. The market has been headline-driven, news-driven, Trump-driven, tweet-driven with moves that are quite aggressive. On February 12 the Dow hit a record high of 29,551. The S&P was at a record high. We had a so-called deal in place with China. All the ducks had been lining themselves up for a massive market rally. The world had not really gauged the reality of the virus yet.

Mark Cuban, owner, Dallas Mavericks: I had followed all the data that was being distributed. Initially it was like, “OK, it’s flu-like, it can’t be too bad.” Then it was, “Oh, we don’t have a vaccine. And it’s not as much like the flu as it may be like SARS.” And “Oh, it hasn’t taken care of itself in Wuhan or in China.” My thought process was up and down. One day it was, “Oh, shit, this is a real problem.” Next day, “Well, maybe it’s not as bad as I thought.” The information seemed to change daily in terms of how people were describing not just the severity of it, but also the intensity and the spreadability of it.

Carolyn Maloney, US Representative, Democrat, New York’s 12th district; chair, House Committee on Oversight and Reform: There were all kinds of conflicting reports on it. Many people up to that point had been treating it as something that was like a mild flu. “It will go away by the summer. It’s not that big a problem.”

Dean Phillips, US Representative, Democrat, Minnesota’s third district: In the first few days of March, a number of us were invited to the White House from the Problem Solvers caucus to meet with Vice President Pence and Dr. Deborah Birx. I left the meeting convinced that there was a graphic disconnect between the risks the virus presented to the country and the administration’s either cognition or belief in the science. There was this expression that it wasn’t a great risk to Americans. A couple of days later we had the first Members of Congress briefing with a number of the agency leads. It was poorly organized, poorly coordinated. You could tell the agencies were not working well together.

Elise Stefanik, US Representative, Republican, New York’s 21st district: The first real wake-up call to Capitol Hill was the American Israel Public Affairs Committee convention. When the news broke on March 4 that individuals at an AIPAC conference had self-quarantined after coming into contact with someone who tested positive, we started asking very specific questions, both from AIPAC and the broader Capitol Hill complex, as to potential exposure. It was so difficult to get any responses.

Douglas Brinkley, presidential historian: I live in Austin, Texas, and they canceled South by Southwest on Friday, March 6—that’s like the billion-dollar engine of the city—and when they canceled, people in Austin were wondering whether the organizers were being way too cautious.

Scott Van Pelt, anchor, ESPN’s SportsCenter: Things were changing really quickly. I was at Disney the weekend before, and I said to my wife, “Are we idiots to go here?” My wife pooh-poohed it. Some of the narratives out there were that it was not that big a deal.

Dan Pfeiffer, cohost, Pod Save America, former White House communications director for President Obama: I was on the third week of my book tour for Un-Trumping America. I was supposed to be on the road for the next 10 days in a different city every day. On Sunday the 8th, before I left, my wife and I had this long conversation, like, “What do we do about the coronavirus?” All my events were going forward. No one had even raised the prospect of changing them.

Ryan Ruocco, play-by-play broadcaster, ESPN: In the first couple of weeks of March, I was traveling a ton and consciously booking flights at times when I could still get some semblance of sleep. That wouldn’t be my normal policy, but I was trying to make sure I was not letting my immune system down, knowing what was starting to fester with Covid-19. I’d been following it closely in Italy, because I was due to get married in June in Italy. That’s now been postponed till June 2021, unfortunately.

Claudia Sahm, director of macroeconomic policy, Washington Center for Equitable Growth: When Italy shut down its northern regions that weekend—that was March 8—I was like, “Oh, we’re in for it.” We’re not South Korea. We’re a lot more like Italy. All this forecasting is playing out in my head, but it’s still early. I wasn’t sure if I was overreacting.

Peter Tuz, president, Chase Investment Counsel Corp.: That Friday and Saturday, Russia and Saudi Arabia decided to try to drive US shale oil producers out of business and make life very painful for them. That helped trigger the big sell-off on Monday—the stock market was down 2,000 points, the largest point plunge for the Dow Jones Industrial Average ever. Our thought was, “This is going to be painful for the energy sector,” but it wasn’t clear that it was going to spill over to the larger economy.

Dan Pfeiffer: I get to San Francisco airport Monday the 9th, and it was totally packed, like it normally would be. I’m like, “OK, this seems like a thing not to be totally worried about yet.” I do an event in Milwaukee on Monday night, totally normal crowd. Everything you’d expect. The bookstore brought Purell, and we put some rules in about not doing photos, to minimize touching, but that was it. I woke up the next morning and flew to Minnesota. My wife, who had been talking about the coronavirus for a very long time now, called and said, “You really should cancel the rest of your events.” I called my publisher, and at first they thought I was being a little crazy and thought the venues would react pretty negatively. Within an hour, they’d had a bunch of other authors and venues cancel. We made the decision to go through with the Tuesday night event and then we pulled down everything for the rest of trip.

Elise Stefanik: We were one of the first Capitol Hill offices to transition to teleworking. Monday, March 9, we were fully teleworked. We were the first door in our hallway to put up a sign that said we will be limiting excess meetings and taking public health cautions and transferring to telework. At this point there was not as much of a concern in the media and the general public. There was a real generational divide of younger members wanting to adjust the operations on Capitol Hill versus some of the older members who were adamant that business continue as usual.

Patrick Hester, Stefanik’s chief of staff: We thought that there were probably already cases that weren’t being reported. So from our perspective, it was already on Capitol Hill and we wanted to make sure our staff got off the Hill as quickly as possible, just for their own health and so that we didn’t accidentally spread it on to constituents who were coming to visit.

Yamiche Alcindor, White House correspondent, PBS NewsHour: The president had been downplaying this virus. You had that moment Monday night, the 9th, when Tucker Carlson was talking to his viewers, telling them, “People you trust—people you probably voted for—have spent weeks minimizing what is clearly a very serious problem.” This was one of the president’s favorite Fox News hosts speaking, it seemed, to the president himself.

Gabriella Orr, White House reporter, Politico: Tucker Carlson is somebody who has a fairly close relationship with Trump. He used that access to convey to him that there was a dire need for a more serious posture from this administration—that somebody needed to do something, and they needed to do it quickly.

Philip Rucker, White House bureau chief, Washington Post: For me and my colleagues at the Post, we’d already started working from home. Tuesday, the 10th, was the first day the newsroom was closed. It was unsettling. The president had been really dismissing the threat and had not acknowledged the magnitude of the crisis.

Liz Cheney, US Representative, Republican, Wyoming’s at-large district, and chair, House Republican Conference: Since January I had been talking to physicians, including some who served in the White House medical unit when my dad as vice president. The last time the House Republican Conference met in person was on March 10, and our guest that day was former Food and Drug Administration head Scott Gottlieb. That was one of the first times I remember hearing him explaining the whole concept of “this is what 'flatten the curve' means.” And “This is why flatten the curve matters” and talking about the extent to which we could see hospitals overwhelmed.

Royce Young, NBA writer, ESPN: Things had started to shift in the NBA. On March 10, I was at an Oklahoma City Thunder practice, and we had new media policies in place. We talked to Danilo Gallinari, who was sitting at a podium, separated from us by like eight feet, which was unusual. From the reporter’s perspective, it felt a little dehumanizing. This player was up at the podium, protected. Then all of us media members are sitting shoulder-to-shoulder. It’s like, “Oh, I guess they don’t care about us.” Gallinari was Italian and has family that has been in lockdown basically for more than a month. He sat there that day and talked about how he was advocating for the NBA to close games off to fans. He was the first player to do that.

President Donald Trump, via Twitter, 5:59 pm, March 10: Best unemployment numbers in the history of our Country. Best employment number EVER, almost 160 million people working right now. Vote Republican, unless you want to see these numbers obliterated!

II. 311/20

Angela Merkel, German chancellor, news conference in Berlin, 6:51 am: The coronavirus has arrived in Germany. When the virus is out there, and the population has no immunity and no vaccination or therapy exists, then a high percentage—experts say 60 to 70 percent of the population—will be infected, so long as this remains the case.

Maxi Kleber, power forward, Dallas Mavericks: Covid-19 has been around for a little while. It was a topic every day; you talked about it a little bit, but it hadn’t really hit us yet. I talk every day to my family back in Germany. At the very beginning, the first couple of days, my family in Germany was ahead of us.

Peter Tuchman: Even though it was across the ocean, it started all to become real. It felt like a tsunami—how it started in China, it rolled through South Korea and Iran, then it started to break over Italy. It was just a giant wave leaving wreckage in its path.

Jen Flanz, showrunner and executive producer, The Daily Show With Trevor Noah: The morning of the 11th, I felt like things were definitely getting more intense and more real—it was more of a real thing. A bunch of people from The Daily Show were supposed to leave for South by Southwest that week, and it had gotten canceled very late in the game. And my father also works in hospitals in Queens, so I had been downloading with him, and I was like, “Oh, this is going to get bad.”

Gabriella Orr: I remember that morning, having spoken with White House officials earlier that day and earlier that week, that the president just really needed to do something more than what the administration was already doing. I remember this collective feeling of angst inside the White House, but also among those of us covering it. At that point the virus was starting to impact the United States in a way that it hadn’t before.

Peter Tuchman: The market can be skittish when it’s not sure what’s really going on. I remember trading, and everyone was starting to kind of get concerned. Markets overnight were trading in complete spirals as the virus started spreading across the world.

Yamiche Alcindor: We were just beginning to realize the scale of this. It already seemed big. He had just signed this $8.3 billion law—these were huge numbers that were going to be thrown at the problem. This was all pre-2-trillion-dollars, of course. He’d asked for $2 billion, the Democrats had said it needed $8 billion. Now 2 trillion later, we’re already talking about more money. This is more expensive than anyone in either party imagined.

Claudia Sahm: Frankly, the night before, the 10th, I was in a bit of a panic because I was worried that I was overreacting. It was like gaslighting the way Trump and Republicans and Fox News would talk about the coronavirus. Like, “We’ve got this one, it’s not a big deal. It’s like the common flu.” Listening to that, I was saying, “We need to get going.” Congress needs to do real things. That morning, I stood in front of the House Democrats at the minority whip breakfast and told them what they needed to do with a relief package. I told the House Democrats that the $8.3 billion package that they had passed the week before was an insult.

Tom Frieden: It’s been really clear that it’s been too little, too late, for a long time.

Carolyn Maloney: I had worked very, very hard to get Dr. Anthony Fauci to testify before my committee. I saw him at a briefing and went up and asked him to testify. His staff was telling me that he couldn’t testify unless he had a month’s notice. He had told me he’d be glad to. He has served six different presidents, both Republican and Democrat. And in my introduction, I introduced him as America’s doctor. It was a very tense hearing, because about five minutes prior to the hearing we were told the agencies would need to cut the hearing short. There was an emergency meeting at the White House, that they could only testify for an hour and then they had to leave.

10:06 am—US House of Representatives, House Committee on Oversight and Reform Hearing, Washington, DC:

Carolyn Maloney: Is the worst yet to come, Dr. Fauci?

Anthony Fauci, director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: Yes, it is.

Carolyn Maloney: Can you elaborate?

Anthony Fauci: Whenever you have an outbreak that you can start seeing community spread—which means by definition that you don’t know what the index case is and the way you can approach it is by contact tracing—then it becomes a situation where you’re not going to be able to effectively and efficiently contain it … We will see more cases, and things will get worse than they are right now. How much worse will depend on our ability to do two things: to contain the influx of people who are infected coming from the outside and the ability to contain and mitigate within our own country. Bottom line, it’s going to get worse.

After the hearing was cut short, there was no sign of any emergency White House meeting.

Dan Pfeiffer: The Minneapolis airport that morning was empty—it was shocking. My flight was very empty. My wife had told me 100 times to make sure I wiped down everything in my area, and I’m sitting next to this guy—he’s actually watching Fox on the Direct TV next to me—and I wiped down everything. He sees me wiping down and I guess he sees that he has permission to do what his wife had also told him to do—so, he takes out his wipes and wipes out everything.

Ryan Ruocco: It had been particularly eerie traveling those two weeks. On Wednesday, it felt like it had hit a new crescendo. I noticed every single person wiping down their seats.

Liz Hannah: I had a meeting that morning; we hugged when I came in. It was sort of an awkward joke—should we hug? Is that safe? It was this weird thing at that point. That was the last conversation or meeting I’ve had where Covid was not the primary topic of conversation.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general, World Health Organization, Covid-19 media briefing, 12:16 pm: WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock, and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction. We have therefore made the assessment that Covid-19 can be characterized as a pandemic. Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly. It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death … We have never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus.

Peter Tuchman: That was the date that they used the word pandemic. It’s funny how keywords are so significant in the way the market trades. The minute that word came out—I remember it so well—the market just careened off a cliff.

Yamiche Alcindor: The WHO calling it a pandemic made it seem like something more real. I had family in Florida—it started to seem like it was sinking into everyday life. They’re makeup artists, they work in laundries, they work in factories, and they were asking, “What’s this virus?”

Peter Tuchman: The VIX—the volatility index—went from 20 to 38 to 60. That is a financial instrument based on fear. When you see it go that way, you can sense the fear. It’s like being in the room where it happened—like a Hamilton moment.

Peter Tuz: The unknowningness of the situation and its ramifications on the US economy, you started thinking about that more and more.

Claudia Sahm: Financial markets always look ahead. They’re reacting to things in the moment, but they’re often looking ahead and trying to react to that and pricing that into the stocks. What you saw is markets start falling. It made total sense. Investors do not like uncertainty. This is uncertainty layered on top of uncertainty.

Peter Tuz: I’ve been doing this since ’84—those are gut-wrenching moments for anyone who manages other people’s money. You feel it in your core. You wish you saw it coming, but the reason the markets fall so much is it’s unpredictable.

Gabriella Orr: Every hour on the hour until the president sat behind the Resolute Desk to give that address, there was something happening that just propelled the urgency more.

Douglas Brinkley: In 1929 Herbert Hoover acted like the Great Depression and the collapse of the stock markets and bank foreclosures weren’t his problem, it was a global issue—don’t blame me—it’s not as big as people say. And it’s why Hoover is ranked very low as a president. And early in the coronavirus crisis, Trump behaved like Herbert Hoover. He was like an ostrich with his head buried in the sand, still wanting to talk in political terms about the pandemic, thinking how a pandemic would damage his brand instead of really grappling with the dimensions of the shit storm that might be hitting America.

Gabriella Orr: The primary motivation behind the president’s Oval Office address was that they really wanted to do something to stabilize the stock market. They were concerned about uncertainty and fluctuations. They felt a primetime Oval Office address—the second one that Trump has given since taking office—would somehow alleviate the anxiety. So they organized this moment where he was to address the nation from the Oval Office, give a somber but also serious speech about the direction that his administration would take to combat coronavirus.

Peter Tuchman: At that point during that week, everybody was desperate for leadership—whether you are a Republican or a Democrat or whatever you are. As an American or as a human being, we were desperately looking for some leadership. There were so many mixed tales being told about, “Are we prepared or not? Is the world coming to an end or not? Is anybody telling the truth or not? Are we going to support whatever happens economically or not?” We needed leadership—the market needed leadership.

Dan Pfeiffer: A national televised address is the biggest weapon in the president’s communications arsenal. It is a card you really only get to play once. I’ve been involved in many, many conversations about if, when, and how you do these remarks. Obviously, there are times when events force them to happen faster than you would like—the most famous example in the Obama era would be bin Laden—but other times, like when you’re in the midst of an ongoing crisis, you have to get all of your ducks in a row.

Douglas Brinkley: Usually the Oval Office address is the time when you really could drive points home—Ronald Reagan in 1986 after the Challenger disaster or George W. Bush talking from the Oval Office on 9/11.

Gabriella Orr: In talking to White House officials, they really thought that this was a plan that would work. They thought that the president had worked carefully on his speech with advisers like Stephen Miller and Jared Kushner, that close inner circle that has always been around the president, that has always made him feel the most comfortable. They were the ones directly involved in writing the address that President Trump delivered that evening.

Ryan Ruocco: As I’m getting ready for the game, I am definitely distracted—constantly following what the latest updates are on how different leagues and teams and conferences are reacting to what’s going on with coronavirus. I love what I do, I love it—and normally on a game day, those hours before we actually go to the arena, I’m just totally, completely engrossed in the preparation for the game—going through storylines and stats and updating numbers and making sure I’m ready to go on air. But on this day, it just felt like it was taking a backseat to the news. It was hard to totally lock in.

Royce Young: There was a Sports Illustrated reporter, Chris Mannix, who had written something earlier in that afternoon about how the NBA is going to have to shut down the season. I read it with this totally dismissive mindset, like, “Get a load of this thing! Chris Mannix shut down the NBA season? Jeez, man. Pump the brakes.”

President Donald Trump, via Twitter, 2:52 pm: America is the Greatest Country in the world. We have the best scientists, doctors, nurses and health care professionals. They are amazing people who do phenomenal things every day. Together we are putting into policy a plan to prevent, detect, treat and create a vaccine against CoronaVirus to save lives in America and the world. America will get it done!

Peter Tuchman: We were in hyper-stress mode because of what the market had been doing. You can sense the fragility of a market on the floor of the stock exchange. That room is full of press. It’s full of brokers. It’s full of market makers. It’s the epicenter of all things headline. In a very visceral way, you could feel it. You have these billboards—these screens running in real time, the S&P, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the volatility index, the real estate index, and whatnot. It’s a plethora of information. You could just feel the sense that the screen is almost shivering in a way. When you see stocks and markets trading at intervals of hundreds of points—stocks dropping 5, 10, 15, 20, 30 percent at a clip—there’s something just extraordinary about it.

Claudia Sahm: I started at the Federal Reserve in 2008. I focused on consumers. I did a lot of work on how fragile the finances of a lot of families are. I kept working on the macro economy on through the recovery from the Great Recession. And it was horrible—policymakers didn’t do what they needed to do, they really abandoned many Americans. When I saw all these events starting to play out—the public health crisis, the response of some countries like Italy to shut down—all of a sudden I was looking into the future, and the future was moving really fast. I was convinced that not only were we basically falling off the cliff economically, but we were going to fall really far. Many, many Americans are never ready for a recession—and no one was ready for this recession.

Peter Tuchman: We’re at a crossroads where people’s fear about what’s happening in the market moment by moment in real time is meeting up against their fear of the health and well-being of their family— which is unheard of. Everybody kept asking me, “So what does this relate to? Does it remind you of the crash of ’87? Does it remind you of 9/11? Does it remind you of the financial crisis?” I had to be honest with them. I said, “It reminds me of none of that stuff.”

Claudia Sahm: The stock market was giving us a very clear signal that we have a problem—a big problem. This is a real thing they’re reacting to.

Peter Tuchman: What differentiated that week as the market was going—you could just see in people’s eyes—first they were worried about how they were going to do the best for the customer with the order they had in their hands, whether it was a buy or sell, in a market that was just careening off a cliff. Then, how they were going to navigate through—God forbid—their family members, their elderly parents or something, getting sick. What was going to be the condition of their 401k and retirement funds when all this was said and done? Then, you know, what is life going to look like on the other side of this? That’s unprecedented. You had the sense in people’s eyes that this was more than just a financial sell-off, that we were really at the epicenter of some epic shit about to happen.

Peter Tuz: In a really dramatic market crash, very few things hold up well. When you have these big crashes, you’re just frozen like a deer in the headlights. It’s a very paralyzing feeling.

Peter Tuchman: The fastest sell-off in history.

CBS MarketWatch, market snapshot, 4:55 pm: The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged 1,464.94 points, or 5.9 percent, to settle at 23,553.22, with the blue-chip benchmark’s close below 23,641.14 marking a bear market, widely defined as a drop of at least 20 percent from a record intraday peak.

III. Wednesday Evening, March 11, New York City

Miles Kahn, executive producer, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee: Everything got really, really crazy really, really quick, like everything ramped up in like a matter of 72 hours that was really kind of shocking.

Jen Flanz: Throughout that week, me and a few of the other late night showrunners—we’re normally friendly anyway, but we don’t usually discuss show plans—had started regrouping about what we were doing. It started to seem like it was a bad idea to have big groups of people. For the safety of everyone we should stop having an audience. That Wednesday night, we all coordinated to put out a press release saying that as of Monday, we’re no longer going to have audiences.

Miles Kahn: That morning, we got word that there was someone sick in our building—just one floor below us at CBS News. Some worry really started creeping into the office. We pretty much sent everybody home that we possibly could, except for the core crew in the studio. The building sent out an email saying that they did a decontamination, but we’re writers and TV people, and we can be a neurotic bunch. I think everyone was a little on edge, and I think then there was some misinformation that maybe it was more than one person.

Jen Flanz: I check my email, and a bunch of other late-night shows are like, “We’re evacuating. Our building’s being evacuated.”

Miles Kahn: We were supposed to shoot at 6 pm, and we’re pretty sure they’re going to try to throw us out of our own studio. We bust a move and go through our rehearsal and our rewrite process as quickly as possible. We canceled the audience altogether, and we decided just to have a smattering of people in the audience. I think there was maybe just six or seven people. And we shot it as sort of a joke. We ended up shooting the show about an hour early. Our head writers Mike Drucker and Kristen Bartlett, they had a great idea to pepper the script with jokes that Sam had never seen. We had to change the show from like this big presentational show for a crowd to like, it’s going to be more like The Soup With Joel McHale. That was our last day in the office or in the studio.

Sean Lane, chair, St. Patrick’s Day Parade Board, New York City: The New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade is the largest civilian parade in the world, by far. We could have anywhere up to a quarter of a million people marching and 1 to 3 million people on the sidelines. We have over 6,000 first responders in the parade. We have the National Guard, the 69th Regiment leads the parade—they’ve led the parade for 169 years. We were hearing a lot of concern. I had spoken to Governor Cuomo, and he said, “What would we think if we postponed the parade?” I said, “It wouldn’t be up to me because I’d have to have a board vote”—we had a board meeting the next morning. And he said, “I think we need to do this now.” I said, “Fair enough.” I respect that he’s the chief executive in New York. And then he went on CNN and announced it was postponed.

In the American Airlines Arena in Dallas, an NBA game was about to get underway: Dallas Mavericks versus Denver Nuggets.

Maxi Kleber, power forward, Dallas Mavericks: Before the game, there was an announcement that Rudy Gobert is sick and is not at the game, but they didn’t say the reason yet.

Mark Cuban: I went in to the locker room and talked to the team and coaches. One of the players, Luka Dončić, asked me if I thought the season could be canceled or postponed, because he’s European and there were some things that were happening over in Europe with soccer leagues. And I said, “You know what, Luka? No one knows for certain. But I’d say if I was a betting man, five, maybe max-out 10 percent chance that the season gets postponed or canceled. But that’s so highly unlikely.”

Maxi Kleber: Five percent—that was the number that we talked about before the game. We were all like, “OK.”

Doris Burke, broadcaster, ESPN: We were over there early, because Luka Dončić wanted to do interviews early. Then you do the coaches. At that point, that rule is instituted about no shaking hands, sit six feet away. Normally, you’d exchange a handshake or even a hug, depending on how well you know these guys. We’re just looking at one another. We sit down in chairs six feet away. It just felt strange.

Mark Cuban: I come out into the arena right with the opening introductions. I’m walking out, the lights are down, and I’m expecting to look up and have an arena that’s half-full at best. I’m thinking, “This is the ultimate example of someplace individuals should be concerned about spread of the virus.” I walk out and the place is packed—packed—like it was any other day of the week, the day before, a month before, a year before. That was just incredible to me. I thought, “Maybe the markets are telling me something. Let’s go play this game and see what happens.”

In Oklahoma City, the home team Thunder was scheduled to play the Utah Jazz at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.

David Holt, Oklahoma City mayor: We still didn’t have a case in the Oklahoma City Metro at that time. Our first state case had been found in Tulsa the previous Friday. Over the weekend, I had reached out to our Oklahoma City-County Health Department—they had a relatively new director—and I reached out to him and suggested that we probably needed to meet and talk. I was starting to see cancellations in other places in the country. We actually had that meeting the morning of the 11th in my offices. We talked in general about some of these things and started to broach these topics.


Royce Young: Rudy Gobert’s status for the game—it was bizarre, he was listed as questionable just 30 minutes before tip-off. Then I saw the Thunder’s head doctor, Donnie Strack, come running off the bench, literally seconds before tip-off—the ref’s already got the ball in his hands. Players are lining up in a circle, getting ready for tip-off. I see Donnie Strack running out, and I knew right then and there: Something’s going down.

David Holt: If Rudy Gobert’s test results had came back at 6 o’clock or 8 o’clock, it would have been a totally different situation. If it had come at 6 o’clock, they just would have canceled the game. That would have been dramatic, but not in the same way—it wouldn’t have happened in front of everybody. At 8, they probably would have finished the game. But at 7 o’clock, when it did come back, it caused this surreal decisionmaking process to occur not just in front of 18,000 people but in front of the world.

Royce Young: Still, nobody knew it specifically had something to do with the virus, but I remember all these arena employees coming out and spraying and wiping down and sanitizing the first four rows of chairs. That was really like, “whoa.” You felt like you were in a movie at that point. Oh, the outbreak is happening here. They’re sanitizing the arena floor? That’s kinda crazy.

Scott Van Pelt, anchor, ESPN’s SportsCenter: I was in Bristol, Connecticut, in the conference room where I prepare to do SportsCenter every night. It’s this big fishbowl—we’ve got six or seven screens on a wall, one big screen with the biggest game of the night. The Thunder and the Jazz were on one of the ancillary screens. We looked up like, “What the fuck’s going on? What’re they doing?”

Royce Young: Everybody was confused. To me, it was obvious: This has something to do with Covid-19. Duh!

David Holt: That night, I was at home. I’d put on my pajamas, and we were sitting down to dinner and following what was happening at the arena. Obviously, it was just as surreal on television as I’m sure it was in person. My phone started blowing up, and it was just a million different things going on.

Royce Young: After Donnie met with the three games officials, the Thunder’s Rob Hennigan came out onto the court as well. They’ve got this little pow-wow going on. One of the officials, Ben Taylor, comes over to the sports table and tells the public address announcer, “Hey, we’ve been told by the league to delay the start of the game. I don’t know why, but we’re just delaying the start of the game.” They sent the players back to the locker rooms. Fans knew then something more significant is going on.

Dan Pfeiffer: When that day started moving so fast for me was Rudy Gobert—he was on my fantasy basketball team and this was the final week to make the playoffs. Six teams make the playoffs, and I was in seventh place battling with the person in sixth place. This game was going to determine whether I made the playoffs, and so the health of Rudy Gobert was high on my list, because he had been marked as questionable.

Royce Young: I left the floor when the players left—they wanted me to go on SportsCenter as fast as they could get me on. The fans were still out there, and they brought out some entertainment—they did the halftime show before the game, trying to fill the time.

David Holt: Normally, you can handle things from home, but I definitely felt at that moment like I had to go somewhere. I got dressed and began to make my way toward the city-county health department, where a bunch of the public health leadership gathered. A lot of the city management leadership gathered at City Hall, and we were linked on a phone call. We just started working through various issues.

Royce Young: Eventually, the public address announcer did end up making an announcement, saying, “The game has been postponed.” He said it twice. He said, “You’re safe. We want you to leave in an orderly manner. You’re safe.” He tried to stress it. They make that announcement, and then the arena goes silent. Everybody complied.

As the 9 pm hour began in Washington, DC, Americans and across the country settled down to watch the president’s address from the Oval Office.

President Donald Trump, Oval Office, White House, 9:02 pm: My fellow Americans, tonight I want to speak with you about our nation's unprecedented response to the coronavirus outbreak that started in China and is now spreading throughout the world.

Philip Rucker: I was on tap to write the lead story for the front page. I spent the afternoon reviewing the president’s public record on the virus. We’d heard rumors that there might be a travel ban, but no one knew for sure. When the speech started, I just sat down on the couch, had a La Croix—Pamplemousse, the grapefruit one—and took notes as he was speaking.

Yamiche Alcindor: I watched the president’s speech on-set at PBS NewsHour. I was watching alongside Judy Woodruff, our anchor, and with Lisa Desjardins, our congressional correspondent. We were sitting very, very close. The social distancing hadn’t sunken in, and I definitely wasn’t making personal changes in my life yet.

Elise Stefanik: In times of crisis, it’s very important to hear directly from the president. I remember thinking, “this is a historic moment.” This is only the second presidential address. It was important to help raise the profile of this issue, because he has the ability to speak to everyone in the country and get the immediate media coverage.

Philip Rucker: At the very beginning, I remember thinking his heart wasn’t in it. There was a lack of passion and enthusiasm that I’m used to from other speeches. He was just going through the motions. It was a speech written for him and designed for him to show leadership in a crisis he didn’t really believe in.

Yamiche Alcindor: Watching him speak, I was thinking, “This is President Trump at a teleprompter, when he’s carefully delivering prepared statement.” He’s calm, not joking around, he’s using every single minute of his time to explain his message. The President Trump I’ve covered, he goes off on tangents, he makes light of things, he lashes out at opponents—there was none of that. This is a very calm and prepared version of President Trump, but he was still managing to get digs in to other countries—this was still a Trumpian worldview. America First. We have to protect ourselves from other countries, and because of their own shortcomings, America now is at risk.

President Donald Trump: And taking early, intense action we’ve seen dramatically fewer cases of the virus in the United States than are now present in Europe. The European Union failed to take the same precautions and restrict travel from China and other hot spots.

Douglas Brinkley: He seemed nervous and distracted.

Philip Rucker: He was twiddling his thumbs from behind the desk. It was striking how different it was from the tone and passion of other speeches—like when they killed Baghdadi. He really believed in that. He wanted that moment; he lived it fully. This was not a very carefully thought-through public moment.

President Donald Trump: These prohibitions will not only apply to the tremendous amount of trade and cargo but various other things as we get approval. Anything coming from Europe to the United States is what we are discussing.

Gabriella Orr: I remember watching it, and the moment that he said he was suspending all travel from Europe, I paused my TV and rewound to and make sure I’d heard him correctly. He’d already placed a travel ban on China, and we knew that there was something that he was going to be doing to restrict further travel affected, but the way that he phrased that just came out of left field. It caught a lot of us off guard.

Yamiche Alcindor: That travel ban was a huge deal. The president was saying our European allies are no longer welcome in the United States? The president was already starting to blame other countries, saying the EU should have taken more action. It was clear he was trying to take control, but he was already deflecting responsibility.

Dan Pfeiffer: In the moment, it wasn’t clear that Trump was offering any solutions. There was no distinct purpose for it other than speaking. Was he telling people to be afraid? Was he telling people not to be afraid? Was he offering specific guidance on the things you should and shouldn’t do to protect yourself? Not really.

Dean Phillips: It was so troublesome and so dismaying and so clear that the leader of the free world didn’t seem to grasp or understand the magnitude of what was forthcoming.

Elise Stefanik: As a former White House staffer during the financial crisis, I vividly recall that circumstances change so quickly in these times of crisis. I could sense from a former staffer’s perspective that this speech was written very quickly. That’s where you find yourself oftentimes in these crises. Looking back at the financial crisis, which was changing at a similar pace, it’s tough as a White House staffer to deliver a message that will be consistent when delivered, as where you’ll be a week or two weeks later. I think they did an admirable job, but I understand how challenging it is when the turnaround time is that quick.

Philip Rucker: As it became clear what had happened with the speech, my task for writing the story shifted. Here was a president trying to take command of the moment, and all of a sudden the president wasn’t correct in regard to the actual wording of the order. We have a really dramatic discrepancy.

As the president was making his address, the NBA games were under way.

Doris Burke: The Mavericks-Nuggets game starts to unfold, and I open up Twitter in a commercial break and I see that Rudy Gobert has tested positive. I hit the talk-back button and say to my producer, Ian, “I’m 99 percent sure that the game in Oklahoma City is not going to happen. Rudy Gobert has tested positive.” And he says, “We can’t go with it, Doris, because we don’t have it confirmed. Just give me a minute.”

Royce Young: I think it might’ve been around 9:30 pm Eastern time where somebody actually tweeted out, “Rudy Gobert has tested positive for coronavirus.” I’m thinking he had just gotten a test, and they’re waiting on the results to clear it so they could start the game. Then it was like, “Oh, no, he actually had it.” That was jarring.

Dan Pfeiffer: All of a sudden, it’s like, “He has coronavirus.” And then: “The game is canceled.”

Ryan Ruocco, anchor, ESPN: When I saw Gobert was diagnosed, I knew everything was going to change.

Scott Van Pelt: Five minutes later, the NBA season was postponed.

David Holt: The management of the 21C Hotel, where the Jazz had been staying, was obviously stressed, because Rudy Gobert was there. Here it was being broadcast around the world that he had Covid, which at that moment was like finding out that you had the black plague. People didn’t know what that meant: He has Covid. OK, does that mean everyone in this hotel now has Covid? That’s what the reaction was.

Ryan Ruocco: We go through the next chunk of action in the Mavericks game in Dallas before the next time-out, and then as we go to break, my producer Ian’s already giving me 10 counts, and tells me in my ear: “Ten, Nine, Ry—tease on the other side, ‘Huge news coming in the NBA’—three, two, one.” So I just get in, “Big news in the NBA when we’re back,” just super quick to get out that tease. I don’t know what it is.

Royce Young: It was like a double whammy there—Rudy Gobert’s tested positive for the coronavirus, and then a few minutes after that, Woj tweeted out that the NBA suspended its season. It crystallized very fast.

Mark Cuban: The game’s going on, back and forth—good game. People were having fun. We’ve got this one guy, Bobi—Boban Marjanović—he’s 7 foot 4. Huge. The biggest human being you’ve ever seen in your life. He was having the game of his career. The game was going our way. Then in the middle of the third quarter, or whatever the timing was, somebody tapped me on the shoulder and that’s when the news of the season being suspension hit me. I was just stunned.

Ryan Ruocco: The shot of the night, from our director, Jeff Evers, was the shot of Mark Cuban on his phone getting the news about the NBA season. He’s just totally shocked.

Doris Burke: To see his face was a really, really powerful, powerful moment.

Mark Cuban: The shit had hit the fan. This is for real, and this is much bigger than basketball.

Ryan Ruocco: The shot was so poignant because it seems this incredibly raw reaction to ridiculous news. You realize that none of us are impervious to the shock of this moment.

Mark Cuban: On one hand, I was like, “Oh, my goodness, what’s going on?” And then number two was, “Oh, my goodness, are we at risk?” And then number three is, “Oh, my goodness, what about everybody here?” The CEO-slash-entrepreneur in me started taking over: “What do I have to do? Who do I have to consider? What comes next?”

Scott Van Pelt: Everything in that moment is just, “Holy shit, this is all over, man. Like, everything’s done.” I don’t know why, but I just had absolute clarity: We’re done. The NBA just said, “We’re not playing.” Well if the NBA isn’t playing, the NHL is not going to play. If the NBA’s not playing, college basketball, there’s no way to justify it. The dominoes were going to fall in every direction and they weren’t going to stop.

Maxi Kleber: I came off the court, I was sitting on the bench next to Luka, and Luka looked at me and said, “Season’s over.” I was like, “Ha, ha, funny.” And he was like, “No season is really over.” And I was like, “What? There’s no way.” He said, “Gobert, he tested positive. So they had to shut down like the whole league.” And I was like, “Wow, that’s crazy.” It happened so fast.

Doris Burke: We go to the first break, we come out and the tone and tenor of everything is entirely different, as you could imagine. The game felt inconsequential, and it was hard to concentrate.

Ryan Ruocco: Doris herself did the broadcast. We didn’t know it at the time, but she turned out to be positive testing for Covid-19.

Scott Van Pelt: In real time, it went from going to do an update about one story and then, very quickly, it became the story. And it wasn’t just the story in sports. Rudy Gobert getting the virus was the story that changed the entire narrative of this pandemic in our country, period. End of story.

The players finished the game.

The 9 pm hour unfolded with alarm across the US.

Tom Hanks, actor, 9:08 pm ET, via Instagram: Hello, folks. @ritawilson and I are down here in Australia. We felt a bit tired, like we had colds, and some body aches. Rita had some chills that came and went. Slight fevers too. To play things right, as is needed in the world right now, we were tested for the Coronavirus, and were found to be positive. Well, now. What to do next? The Medical Officials have protocols that must be followed. We Hanks’ will be tested, observed, and isolated for as long as public health and safety requires. Not much more to it than a one-day-at-a-time approach, no?*

Gabriella Orr: Oh, my gosh! I had just watched the movie about Mr. Rogers a couple weeks before, and I couldn’t believe it. It was just surreal to see.

Jen Flanz: The Tom Hanks diagnosis, I remember hearing and being like, “OK, this is one of those urban legends—like, Zack Morris died in a car crash kind of thing.” Tom Hanks, the biggest actor ever—of course, that’s who the first rumor is, right? Then once it was confirmed, I was like, “Oh wow.” Of course, there were already people in New York who were dying, but hearing Tom Hanks had it made it real for a lot of people.

Elise Stefanik: You cannot think of a more iconic figure to test positive as being a reality check for the American people.

Liz Hannah: It hit the most beloved actor and one of the nicest actors—it wasn’t just that the virus hit someone I knew, it touched someone who was a spokesperson for what the good part of our industry can be. And it wasn’t just him—it was him and Rita. It was really frightening.

Mark Cuban: I got my kids, had them ready to leave. And then I went to the locker room, talked to the players and coaches—primarily individually—and basically just said, “Look, I don’t know what’s next” and “We’ll go home. Don’t go anywhere else!” And “We’ll see what was going to happen next.” As soon as we know anything, you’ll know something. We’ll communicate everything. Walking out with my kids, it was like, “Oh, shit, what comes next?” That’s when your parental instincts take over. What world are these kids growing into? My kids are 10, 13, and 16. What are they going to face? Where does this take the world—their world?

David Holt: It was just a remarkable moment in history, because if you had designed an event with the intent of getting people’s attention, you wouldn’t have changed a thing. It was the most dramatic way for Covid-19 to be thrust into the lives of every American.

Marina Fang, reporter, Huffington Post, via Twitter, 9:39 pm: What a year the last hour has been.

In Europe, Americans were scrambling, reacting to the president’s announcement of a travel ban.

Laura Lawson Visconti, Lisbon, Portugal: My husband and I own a couple of businesses together, and it’s really hard for us to take time to travel and just escape. We had planned a trip to Europe for literally 11 months. We flew into Barcelona for a few days, spent some time in Spain, and then we flew over to Portugal. We’d been in Lisbon for a total of five hours. We had maybe been asleep for two hours when our phones started going off at 1:15 am our time [9:15 EDT]. It was my husband’s stepdad, in the Bay Area in California, and he had watched Trump’s address on the European travel ban. It was just instant pandemonium and chaos: “Holy shit. How do we get home immediately?” It was very confusing initially.

Mike McIntire, Paris, France: My wife and I were in an apartment in Paris nearing the end of a week-long stay. Everything was still open in France. At that point, there was no social distancing really going on. All of a sudden, my cell phone rings—it woke me up at 2:15 am. My daughter calling us, “I don’t know if you guys know, but Trump just announced that they’re banning all travel from Europe, effective like midnight Friday.” We hadn’t heard that, obviously. We were asleep.

Laura Lawson Visconti: We had a lot of concerned friends and family members back home who were urging us to get home as quickly as possible. We watched the Oval Office address, we called our airline, Virgin Atlantic, we were on hold for two hours in the middle of the night.

Mike McIntire: I jumped online to see if I could reschedule the two tickets we had. I immediately got the sense that a whole bunch of people were trying to do this at the same time. We tried calling the airline and were told it was a four-hour wait-time to talk to somebody. Not knowing what else to do, I just start looking for two completely new tickets. These fares would show up, and then you go to click on it and it would say it was not available. It was very apparent that people were very quickly—just like we were—trying to snap up any kind of last-minute one-way flights they could get out of Europe. I finally found two economy seats available through for the next day, March 12, for $2,500 apiece. There was nothing else available.

Laura Lawson Visconti: We thought, “Well, we don’t want to be stuck here.” We booked out-of-pocket tickets from Lisbon to London the next morning, then an overnight stay in London on the way back to San Francisco.

Mike McIntire: No sooner had I pressed the purchase button than on CNN they came back on and said, “Wait! Now it looks like Americans are exempt from the travel ban.” I went back and tried to cancel the tickets I had just bought, and I couldn’t do it. I call the airline number, and now it was up to a six-hour wait time. It was a nightmare.

In the US, the day’s implications were still coming to light.

Gabriella Orr: It was less than an hour after the president’s speech that acting acting deputy secretary of Department of Homeland Security, Ken Cuccinelli, tweeted out a statement to clarify the president’s remarks. And then after that, the White House released text of Trump’s order to provide further clarity.

Dan Pfeiffer: To allow that to happen was both an obvious breakdown of how government works and very scary. If you can’t get the speech right, you’re not prepared to contain the pandemic.

Gabriella Orr: Almost immediately, you saw agency officials trying to clarify the president’s remarks. Trump himself posted a tweet saying the travel ban wouldn’t apply to cargo coming in from European countries, with the White House adding that it would not apply to US citizens traveling back from Europe. There was a whole mess of statements that he made during that Oval Office address that needed to be cleaned up after the fact.

Yamiche Alcindor: This is the time when everyone gets scared. As a reporter, you’re trying to do your job, and then I’m fielding calls from my mom and other people wondering, “What the heck?” This is a moment where everyone says, “What does this mean for my personal life?”

Peter Tuchman: We all the lead different lives. We all have different priorities. There are people who love food and fashion; there are people who love travel; there are people who love sports; people who love money and markets. We have this amazing ability as humans to disconnect from stuff that’s very real, unless it’s in our back door. There were people who still were able to buffer themselves from the reality of this whole thing until they found out that the NBA was shut down for the year, until Tom Hanks, one of the greatest actors in the world, somebody we all identify with. It made it real for people. “Oh, my God.” The market had already taken a trillion dollars out of it, and people were dying in the streets of Italy, but it had not really been real yet to anybody.

Claudia Sahm: I grew up on a farm in Indiana, and I call back home now daily to talk to my parents. It wasn’t until the NBA shut down that my dad, who is an Indiana basketball fan, was like, “Oh, this is real.” It got attention. Fox News could tell you over and over again it isn’t a problem, but when what you do every single night is watch basketball and it’s gone—it’s a wake-up call.

Peter Tuz: That was the day that disbelief went to belief. Your thoughts went from “I know this will affect the US, but I don’t know whether this will dramatically affect life as we know it” to “this is a real crisis. It just affected life as we know it.” The NBA getting called off opened the door to everything else being called off. Everything reverberated from that point on.

Gabriella Orr: The feelings inside the White House changed in a matter of minutes that day. From heading into the president’s remarks, thinking that this is going to be a moment that really marked a change in his response to this virus—a moment that really rallied the country behind the White House and behind the president—and then, right afterward, talking to White House officials, they were just so disheartened. They were so disappointed at the way it unfolded. Morale just bottomed out, and it hasn’t really repaired itself.

That night, the first confirmed case of Covid-19 was identified on Capitol Hill, a staffer in Washington senator Maria Cantwell’s office.

Liz Cheney: We knew that it was inevitable that there would be positive cases on Capitol Hill. But the news that somebody actually did test positive on Capitol Hill helped to encourage a lot of people to recognize that we needed to take action to begin operating in a different way. When it became public that a staffer on the Senate side had tested positive for Covid, I made the decision that we were not going to hold the conference meeting that was scheduled for the next day, that we were going to do that by phone. To us, the news of the positive test on Capitol Hill was more significant than Tom Hanks.

Elise Stefanik: The past two years are extraordinary if you think about the concept of time and focus. The Mueller testimony—that seems like years ago. The impeachment hearings in the House, which obviously was November, December—that seems certainly more than a few months ago. The January Senate trial also seems like a distant part of the past. The pace of these very significant events. It’s just so unpredictable, the vastness and the severity of the issues over these past two years.

LeBron James, via Twitter: Man we canceling sporting events, school, office work, etc etc. What we really need to cancel is 2020! Damn it’s been a rough 3 months. God bless and stay safe.

Matt Warburton, executive producer, The Mindy Project, via Twitter, 12:08 am, March 12: Today was like if “We didn’t start the fire” was a day.

Claudia Sahm: That’s one of those days that I don’t think we ever thought we would live.

Elise Stefanik: Already, March 11 seems like months ago.

Claudia Sahm: I went into March 11 thinking maybe I’m overreacting. I came out of March 11 being like, “Oh, no—I was right.” It’s bad. I’m praying that there’s a day coming very soon where I’m totally wrong, because I have more and more pessimistic views about what’s happening.

Gabriella Orr: There hasn’t really been a moment since that speech and in the few weeks that have passed where White House officials have felt like they’ve finally got a grip on things.

Yamiche Alcindor: There was before this day and there was after this day.


Doris Burke: I landed home on Thursday, started to feel really poorly on Saturday. I started thinking, “My God, my symptoms aren’t aligning with what we’re hearing most closely associated with the virus, but I’m not well and I’m getting worse.” I tested on Tuesday night, the 17th. They said when I left the hospital, “You’ll know in three to five days.” And I didn’t hear until eight days later. Basically, a physician from that hospital calls you with the test result and then tries to cultivate as much information as possible. They’re trying to track where did I get it? Who have I come into contact with? Then the next day, the Health Department of Pennsylvania also called. What were your symptoms? When did they start? When I had documented the number of places and modes of transportation and the size of the venues I had been in—they both chuckled. They were like, “Well, no chance we’ll trace your exposure.” And I said, “Yeah, no kidding.”

Peter Tuchman: The following Tuesday night, I got sick. I got tested on Wednesday morning. I never came back to work after that. That was the week that the shit really went crazy with testing, and it took about five days to get my results. I was Covid-positive. By Friday, I started spiking temperatures. Over the next 10 or 12 days I got sicker and sicker every day. I lost sense of taste and smell. My skin hurt. I was black and blue in my body, as if I’d been in a boxing match with Mike Tyson. I’m on day 35 now. I started walking three days ago.

Editor’s Note: The NBA, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Utah Jazz all declined to participate in the reporting of this article or did not respond to interview requests. After repeated requests to multiple officials, the White House initially agreed to participate but did not follow through.

Nora McGreevy contributed research and reporting to this article.

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