As I write this, it has been 113 days since the first COVID-19 case was identified in my home county. Within an hour, the school system announced schools would be closed for two weeks in order to give classrooms a thorough scrubbing. Little did we know.
I remember my first reaction. Wow, two weeks. That’s a long time. Like many of you, I had kept up with this coronavirus thing at arm’s length. When my (much smarter) wife bought some extra toilet paper back in March, I asked why. “You read the news on TV, and you don’t know why?” she asked. “Well, I know there’s something about a cruise ship, and some illness in China, but 20 rolls of toilet paper?” I responded. “Just wait and see,” she said. Why are women right so often?
Much has been said about how the CDC was wrong, the World Health Organization was wrong, and so on. Facebook skeptics love to find something Dr. Anthony Fauci said in February, and pounce. “See! Even he didn’t know how bad it would be!” Could anyone have predicted what we have seen during the past 113 days?
As is so often the case, there’s a paper trail to prove my cluelessness. On March 13 I wrote, “God forbid, if this was September, can you imagine an SEC football game played to an empty stadium? I can’t either.” I can now.
I was among those who chose to be optimistic, hoping that warm weather would land a knockout punch, right square in the face of COVID-19. Maybe, I thought, by Memorial Day at the very latest, the ballplayers would be back on the field. Those spring weddings that had been postponed would result in a flood of June brides. I could comfortably return to my fast-food favorite haunts, and eat at the table, as God intended. I had no idea.
2020 is half over, and if it were a boxing match, the referee would have invoked the mercy rule by now. A recent national survey says only 14% of Americans describe themselves as “happy.”
Having witnessed a pandemic, tornadoes, and street violence, you’d think the fates would be like Nick Saban when Alabama is playing against a small school. “Fellas, we’re gonna ease up in the second half. We’re up 42-0. Got a buddy up in the stands who wants to play? We shouldn’t run up the score.”
So in recent days, we’ve put on a brave face. Major League Baseball is gearing up for a July 24 comeback, despite several star players who are opting out. Many public school districts are holding firm with their usual August start dates. Some churches have been gradually reopening, with limited seating. Movie theater chains announced a July restart.
Having already proven that I am frequently wrong, I am not optimistic about any of these plans. The movie theaters have already backed off, and wisely so. I would be reluctant to put school-age children under someone else’s care until I could do so with full confidence. I don’t see that happening in the next few weeks.
As far as sports is concerned, nobody misses baseball more than me. Heck, I was loyal to the Atlanta Braves in the late 1980s, when they played to an empty stadium every night. There was no illness, just an epidemic of bad pitching, strikeouts and errors. I used to call the ballpark on game day. I’d ask, “What time does the game start?” They would reply, “What time can you be here?”
But again, I would be amazed if the abbreviated 60-game season (plus playoffs) actually happens. Despite the precautionary measures being taken in the clubhouse and on the field, do we really expect these strapping 25-year-old athletes to live in a bubble around the clock? All it takes is one positive case, and the team is pretty much shut down. Multiply that by 30 teams.
That’s why there is so much concern from high school to the NFL about the ultimate contact sport. In baseball, the butt-slapping, high-fives and victory celebrations can be curbed. In football, a few dozen guys are in each other’s grille for three hours each week. Again, all it takes is one case.
Would I miss my weekly dose of SEC football, which dominates my weekends for four months each year? Most definitely. I’ve already dreaded the prospect of empty stadiums. Frankly, half the fun is watching the fans, or being among that crowd. Take that away, and all you have is a scrimmage game. And let’s face it. My petty complaints aside, health is still the number one concern.
Yes, some day, the worst of this will be in the rear-view mirror. Just don’t count on that day being in 2020.
David Carroll, a Chattanooga news anchor, is the author of “Volunteer Bama Dawg,” available on his website, ChattanoogaRadioTV.com. You may contact him at email@example.com, or 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405.