COVID-19 Hits Home: The Local Perspective

Gig economy worker wearing protective mask, driving van with takeout food order.Local newspapers offer windows to see the true impact of the coronavirus pandemic on our communities.

May 3, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic arrived in our country at a time of deep political divisions. Now, COVID-19 has turned up the volume on some of our most rancorous debates, and it can be difficult to separate the public health story from the political drama. Much of the national media’s coverage of the pandemic has focused, for example, on President Trump’s daily press briefings, what they do or don’t mean, and whether networks should even be covering them in the first place.

Those are fair questions, but what often gets lost is the human toll that Americans are experiencing each day. Many journalists who are telling these stories work for local newspapers, reporting the tangible impact the virus is having in their communities across the country. This week, we look at the ways local journalism is grounding the coronavirus conversation in the lives of real people. Here are seven stories that show how.

Volunteer Voices

Doctors put a mother on a ventilator shortly after delivering her baby by cesarean. Nurses made a card for family members of a man who died alone in the hospital, including his fingerprint and an image of his heartbeat as final mementos. The Salt Lake Tribune tells these and other stories from medical teams who traveled from Utah to New York to help overwhelmed colleagues in the eye of the storm.

Mobile Morgues

By late March, intensive care units in some Georgia counties were already full. By early April, mobile morgues had arrived in Albany, Georgia, writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a grim symbol of the outbreak that rapidly tore through the town after a number of residents attended a funeral together weeks before. Officials began staging mobile morgues in other, quieter locations around the state in anticipation of more deaths than they were prepared to manage.

A Sense of Duty

James Simpson grew up in foster care before finding a calling as a counselor to teenagers at a Seattle-area mental health center. When he learned that some of the teens he worked with had contracted COVID-19, Simpson went back to work anyway. “I’ve already been exposed,” he texted to his sister. “So I might as well keep coming to work.” Ten days later, Simpson died in his apartment. Current and former employees at the center criticized its parent company for failing to protect its staff, who worked in a complex environment where the disease could – and did – spread rapidly – via The Seattle Times

Busy Signal

Under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, gig economy workers are eligible for $600 per week in unemployment benefits. But getting those benefits is another matter. In Florida, the state’s unemployment system has been overwhelmed and a promised new system for gig workers has yet to materialize. One woman tells The Miami Herald she worries about becoming homeless, now that her husband has lost his restaurant job and her freelance work has dried up. The couple has been trying unsuccessfully to file for unemployment since the first week of April, leaving the woman with “a nauseous feeling at night.”

Uncertain Future

A chamber of commerce in northern Nevada says that 80 percent of its nearly 2,000 members are small businesses, and that 70 percent of them are considered nonessential. Many of them felt the economic devastation immediately, leaving both owners and employees to worry that business may never return to business as usual. “I’m working toward my retirement,” frets the owner of an independent wine shop. “I’m not there yet. If I lost the business now, my retirement would be almost nothing.” – via The Nevada Independent

Nursing Home Tragedy

COVID-19 has killed more than 3,500 New York residents of long-term care facilities since March. Now, an investigation by the state’s health department and attorney general will probe whether nursing homes and adult care facilities followed state laws and regulations to prevent the virus’s spread, reports the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester. Nursing home operators argue that an earlier directive from the health department, which required them to readmit residents even if they were suspected to have COVID-19, is to blame.

Front Line Burden

For health care workers, the pandemic defines not only their hours at work but their time at home. Doctors, nurses, hospital technicians, and other workers describe what they are dealing with on top of caring for patients: anxiously disinfecting before they walk through the front door, sending their children to live with relatives, and managing the mental and physical stress that comes with exhausting work shifts. “Last night was one of the hardest, if not the hardest, shift I have ever worked in 15 years in a hospital. The stuff of nightmares,” one patient care tech wrote on Facebook – via Evansville Courier & Press


Learn More

Rural Risk: An epidemiologist suspects that rural Americans may be even more at risk than urban ones of being devastated by the pandemic. Rural communities often have few health care clinics and hospitals; half of U.S. counties have no intensive care beds. They also have fewer supermarkets and pharmacies, making social distancing harder to do. Rural areas also tend to lack the public health infrastructure that enables disease surveillance, contact tracing, and analysis of how a virus is spreading – via Time

Ordinary Faces: The coronavirus has taken both famous and ordinary Americans alike, but all had unique lives and contributions to society. This project chronicles people from all walks of life, including a beloved boxing gym owner, a trailblazing nurse, a civic leader, and a climate scientist – via The New York Times

COVID-19 Behind Bars: Chicago’s Cook County Jail has seen hundreds of coronavirus infections and six deaths among inmates, as well as over 150 infections and one death among correctional officers. Now, a federal judge is ordering better testing and more social distancing to prevent further spread, as well as face masks and additional sanitizing measures – Chicago Tribune

Homelessness Made More Dire: Homeless people across the country say the coronavirus has pushed them to extreme desperation. Homeless shelters are potential hotbeds of the virus. Libraries and fast food restaurants that would typically offer a bathroom are closed. Soup kitchens don’t have enough workers to stay open. In cities across the country, homeless people are out of options – via Wired

A New Model for News: Two of the newspapers we cited above, the Salt Lake Tribune and the Nevada Independent, are non-profit organizations. It’s a model that both new and legacy publications are turning to as they search for a new and sustainable business model. Learn more about the Tribune’s transition, and consider subscribing to your local paper – non-profit or not – via NPR

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This article originally appeared in the May 3, 2020 issue of Wide Angle, our regular newsletter designed, we hope, to inform rather than inflame. Each edition brings you original articles by Common Ground Solutions, a quiz, and published articles — from across the political spectrum — that we think are worth reading. We make a special effort to cover good work being done to bridge political divides, and to offer constructive information on ways our readers can engage in the political process and make a difference on issues that matter to them.

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