A basketball tournament, with no fans. A St. Patrick’s Day, with no parades.
College campuses, with no students. Corporate headquarters, with barren cubicles. California’s governor urged people to avoid even small social gatherings, if they can’t remain six feet apart.
The nation snapped to attention as the new coronavirus was declared a pandemic and stocks slid into bear market territory. As Americans belatedly seemed to come to grips with the outbreak, President Donald Trump held a rare prime-time address from the Oval Office to calm the public.
Health and government officials have been sounding the alarm about the virus for nearly two months as it infected and killed thousands of people, pinballing from China to Iran to Italy and beyond before striking Seattle in the first deadly outbreak in the U.S.
But Wednesday was the moment that the larger American public came to the dawning realization that the toll of the virus would be unavoidable for months to come, perhaps longer.
In the matter of hours Wednesday afternoon, the signs were everywhere. The NCAA announced that the rite of spring for so many Americans — its college basketball tournament — would be played before largely empty arenas. The NBA said it would suspend its season until further notice.
News feeds lit up with cancellations of St. Patrick’s Day parades, major university systems in California, New York and elsewhere ending classes for the term and late-night comedians making plans to film without live studio audiences.
CBS Evening News anchor Norah O’Donnell solemnly declared during Wednesday evening’s broadcast that two employees of the network had tested positive and those who worked closely with them had been asked to self-quarantine.
Then, Hollywood icon Tom Hanks announced from Australia that he and his wife have tested positive for the virus. And just as the Hanks news was bouncing around the internet and on people’s phones, the NBA said it would pause its season until further notice.
“The NBA will use this hiatus to determine next steps for moving forward in regard to the coronavirus pandemic,” the league said in a statement.
In his prime-time address, Trump declared that he is sharply restricting passenger travel from 26 European nations to the U.S. beginning late Friday, at midnight. Trump said the month-long restrictions won’t apply to the United Kingdom, and there would be exemptions for “Americans who have undergone appropriate screenings.” He said the U.S. would monitor the situation to determine if travel could be reopened earlier.
“We are all in this together,” Trump said.
The Oval Office address was an abrupt shift in tone from a president who has repeatedly sought to downplay the severity of the threat, telling people: “It will go away, just stay calm.”