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GREG HARTON: Virus fears shut down almost everything

by Greg Harton | March 15, 2020 at 1:00 a.m.

I was driving down Township Street in Fayetteville with my youngest son Wednesday night after his basketball practice, listening to President Trump on the radio as he outlined his administration's plans for dealing with the coronavirus and its economic impacts.

"Oh, my lord," burst out of my mouth almost involuntarily when the president announced a 30-day ban on travelers from Europe.

I mean, sure, one might expect the president to ban travel from majority Muslim nations or to propose building a wall on the Mexico border twice as high to keep the virus out or some other nonsensical move. But keeping Europeans out? That was a new wrinkle for him.

It was the start of a wild 12- to 18-hour period in which a lot of wait-and-see holding patterns formed into a full-blown, fast-spreading collection of decisions that jarred everyone with its breadth.

First, it sounded like championship sports events like the SEC Tournament would go on but without fans in the stands. News that the National Basketball Association had suspended its season led my 17-year-old to emerge from the cave known as his bedroom to lament the tragedy of it all -- Lebron being denied a chance to win a fourth championship.

Oh, yeah. There's that. And a worldwide pandemic.

By the middle of last week, most of us recognized this whole coronavirus episode was going to make things worse before they get better. Still, who imagined so many dominoes would fall in such a short period of time?

I went to work Thursday thinking about how strange it would be to watch the men's Razorback basketball team play in a nearly empty arena, hopefully on the way to winning the SEC and a place in the NCAA Tournament, which I suspected would adopt the "no fans" approach, too.

It would have been March Mumness.

Watching those tournaments without fans would be like holding an election in November without voters.

Oh, wait, forget I said that. I don't want to give anyone any ideas.

To do my part, I chose to write this column without the presence of any spectators. I didn't see anyone leave disappointed.

Before Thursday was done at the office, the SEC Tournament was canceled. My first thought was "Is this just another bad call from SEC officials?" Some Arkansas fans might say the team has been training for that all season. I mean, Mason Jones fouls out on that play? Really?

But plenty of other tournaments canceled. And the NCAA pulled the plug on its tourney and on games in spring sports like baseball.

Major League Baseball spent the day trying to figure things out, too. Come on, not baseball, I thought. All the players already wear gloves and catchers wear masks. Then, spring training games were canceled and opening day games were delayed by at least two weeks.

I'd heard before that maybe teams and umpires would just watch for any signs of illness and, if any were spotted, the Astros would bang on a trash can so their players could get a head start fleeing the field. Maybe I misunderstood.

Local governing bodies can't meet, legally, without the public present, but I thought some might propose the idea. Imagine, in Fayetteville, with just the mayor and eight council members there, meetings might last just five hours rather than the usual six.

OK, I do view the coronavirus seriously, but sometimes you do just have to laugh. Like when pondering what alternatives I might have around the house when my normal toilet paper supply runs out.

Staying healthy needs to be a serious, front-and-center mindset right now, if nothing else to protect those we love who fall into more vulnerable categories.

I can think of few things to make Americans take it seriously more than the cancellation of sporting events and learning that the coronavirus has the audacity to infect Tom Hanks.

Commentary on 03/15/2020

Print Headline: Virus fears shut down everything

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