Rollie column

Rollie Atkinson

A few years ago when I was speaking to a local Rotary Club about newspapers, I was asked what we would do if there was ever a week when there was no news to report. I jokingly answered that, “We’d just have to make something up.” Well, here we are with no meetings, no events, no gatherings, no fundraisers, no libraries, no schools and only lots and lots of other closed doors.

Nothing is happening. The real joke is we have never had busier newsrooms. We are chasing stories, fact checking, researching, writing and publishing the news. Our new beat assignment is reporting all the cancelations and postponed events. The big news is the surging public health crisis over the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. The even bigger news is that all the lessons of recovery, resiliency and rebuilding we just learned from two wildfires, a drought and a historic flood don’t feel that helpful right now.

Who ever heard of ‘social distancing’ until last week? How does one prepare for a ‘self-quarantine?’ If our job requires serving food, retail sales, providing customer service or making deliveries, how can we “work at home”?

The spread of COVID-19 is touching every part of everyone’s life. This includes our schools, sports events, parades, film festivals, community awards ceremonies, special winetasting weekends, upcoming gala fundraisers, empty hotel rooms, canceled civic club meetings, and almost all places of work and where we worship.

At this newspaper, we take very seriously our self-assigned task of keeping our readers and larger community as informed as possible. We have been posting official updates, warnings, event closures and scientific-based reports almost on an hourly basis at our websites and social media feeds. We are monitoring local social media platforms to help our readers separate real facts from dangerous rumors. At the same time, we are washing our hands, wiping our keyboards and doing most interviews by email and phone. It’s not easy to practice “working at home” when the news is somewhere else.

During this COVID-19 public health emergency, we are providing all our related news coverage and assembled official resource guide free to everyone on our websites. Almost all other local newspapers in America are doing the same. The pressure on our limited journalism resources is daunting to us. We thank our subscribers and loyal local advertisers for supporting us. Like every other local business and workplace, we do not know what economic uncertainties lie immediately in front of us.  There is other local news besides the COVID-19 crisis, and we are doing our best to report that as well.

In the meantime, we’d like to share a few healthy and hopeful suggestions as we all live through these unparalleled times. Facts, truths, real news and choices of the right words matter. Maybe we should change the words “social distancing” to “social spacing.” We understand the health reasons to avoid close contact with others, but now is not the time to be socially distant. We should do the opposite.

When we don’t shake hands, we should still take an extra moment to make eye contact. For every hug or physical pat on the back we must avoid, we could replace it with a meaningful verbal exchange. Someone should invent an “anti-virus smile” or hand gesture. Right now, we must avoid group gatherings, crowded spaces and formal events. Some of that can be replaced with our social media technology but that doesn’t take the place of genuine caring, conversation and expressions of empathy.

This historic pandemic is just beginning. We are told the spread of infections, economic idleness, overrun health facilities and mounting deaths is just beginning. Each one of us will be uniquely challenged to remain hopeful and supportive of others. Judging by the recent hoarding of toilet paper, we’re not off to a very good start. What will we do when there are not enough hospital rooms or life-saving ventilators to go around?


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