One of the best reasons to be a journalist is to be forced to remain calm in the midst of crisis in order to do your job.
It doesn’t always work. Covering a fatal car crash in Sandwich on Thanksgiving night 1996, my fingers froze, my pen wouldn’t write, and I was so shocked by the one dead and four critically injured teenagers stuck in the car that I didn’t even remember to ask the gender of the deceased.
When I covered the Whaler’s Wharf fire in 1998, I could barely get my trembling legs to step over the charged fire hoses.
This pandemic has changed my daily routine more radically than in either of those awful but brief times. From my desk at home each weekday, I start my morning with a conference call with Sean O’Brien, emergency preparedness coordinator of Barnstable County, and a pack of reporters. We talk for 10 to 30 minutes about the coronavirus.
Sean begins by running the numbers of tests, positive results, and fatalities. He gives us the straight stats for Barnstable County and the state.
You would think it a macabre time, listening to the bells toll for the deceased. But that’s not how it feels. Partly it’s having a knowledgeable person to talk to every day. But there is another reason I am becoming calmer, while friends and relatives stay scared as news consumers.
It’s that up close, the news is not that bad.
Barnstable County has had 514 positive tests and 17 people have died as of April 14. I started talking with O’Brien on March 24: back then, there was a critical shortage of tests and personal protective equipment, which is no longer an issue.
Every day, O’Brien has talked about the peak, the time when the hospitals would be overwhelmed, as happened in Italy and New York City.
As of April 14 — just a day or two away from the predicted peak — the Cape’s hospitals are only 50 percent full, and that doesn’t include the three field hospitals that Cape Cod Healthcare has opened at Joint Base Cape Cod and at two empty nursing homes in Falmouth and Brewster, adding 320 beds.
From April 13 to 14, the county testing site only had one new positive case, O’Brien said.
In Provincetown, Truro, and Wellfleet, there have been more recoveries than new cases.
“I think the people of Cape Cod are doing pretty well,” O’Brien said Tuesday. “The fact that people are staying home and social distancing is helping quite a bit. If people can keep enduring, I think things will not be as bad. But we cannot be 100-percent sure. To say ‘We’re doing well’ is hard when 17 people have died.”
That’s true, Sean. I look forward to our next talk.