Tuesday, April 7, 2020
April 7, 2020

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Jayne: Slap shots ding on hard news day

By , Columbian Opinion Editor
Published:

We have been through this before.

Well, maybe not we, unless you are a centenarian. And maybe not this, unless you happened to be following the 1919 Stanley Cup finals. But as the impact of a coronavirus outbreak became clear on Wednesday, perhaps the only solace was to think that we have been through this before and managed to come out the other side.

Like in 1919. That is when the Seattle Metropolitans of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (yes, Seattle had a big-time hockey team that even won the Stanley Cup in 1917) played the Montreal Canadiens of the National Hockey League for the greatest trophy in all of sports.

All games in the best-of-five series were scheduled for Seattle, which happened to be engulfed in the influenza pandemic that swept the globe in 1918 and 1919. Game 4 was declared a tie after two overtimes, and through five games the series was tied 2-2-1. But the series was called off after several players were hospitalized because of the flu, and Montreal great Joe Hall died a few days later.

Kevin Ticen, who wrote a book about the series, recently told The Seattle Times: “They cancelled the last game because they didn’t want people in that close proximity. The players also all shared the same water, so they worried that they were contaminated.”

All of this came to mind Wednesday, with perhaps the most extraordinary news day since 9/11. No, that’s not comparing the coronavirus to 9/11; it’s comparing it to every day since then. And for a news junkie, Wednesday was compelling.

It started with Gov. Jay Inslee placing a ban on gatherings of more than 250 people in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties. Seems reasonable, and yet remarkable.

Then came news that the NCAA was going to play its signature men’s and women’s basketball tournaments without fans in the arenas. Only families and essential personnel were to be allowed, which had me checking the family tree to see if I am a close relative of Sabrina Ionescu. On Thursday, they canceled the tournaments.

Then word came that Tom Hanks and his wife, who are in Australia, have been diagnosed with COVID-19. If the disease wanted to grab the attention of Americans, it could either attack Tom Hanks or blow up Mount Rushmore. They’re both national treasures.

Then President Donald Trump addressed the nation. He even managed to avoid calling coronavirus a “hoax” or saying Gov. Inslee is a “snake” or blaming the Obama administration for the outbreak — all of which he’d done before.

Then an NBA game was postponed minutes before tipoff. One of the players, who had not come to the arena, was confirmed with COVID-19. The league followed that by postponing all games until further notice.

Then schools in the Seattle area announced they will close for several weeks, and other sporting events were cancelled, and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown put the kibosh on public gatherings for four weeks.

And by the end of a head-spinning day, we were left with an inescapable reminder that we are all in this together.

By the middle of the week, more than 1,200 coronavirus cases had been confirmed in the U.S., and the virus had contributed to 38 deaths. Those are small numbers for a nation of about 330 million people; the Spanish flu outbreak of a century ago is believed to have infected about 500 million people globally and contributed to anywhere from 17 million to 50 million deaths worldwide.

But the coronavirus numbers will grow, rapidly and exponentially, and they will remind us of the need for a competent and proactive government. They will have us questioning whether the disease could have been slowed if an adequate number of testing kits had been available, or if the Trump administration had not eliminated its pandemic response team in 2018, or if the president had paid attention to public health advisors rather than the stock market.

In the meantime, we can find comfort only in the thought that we have been through this before.

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