On the night of Wednesday, March 11, I stepped out of one catastrophe and into another.
My colleagues and I were working late, putting the finishing touches on Floodlines, an eight-part podcast about the long aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that would be launching the next day. I’d spent the better part of a year traveling back and forth between Washington, D.C., and New Orleans, immersing myself in the stories of Katrina’s victims and heroes, trying to get my head around the immense human suffering and colossal failures of governance that followed the breaking of the levees 15 years ago.
We had endeavored to distill something meaningful and useful from that modern American disaster, in hopes that what we learned might—someday, somehow—help someone. But until we wrapped up our work, as I wiped my desk with bleach at 3 a.m., it had not occurred to me that I might be that someone, and that someday might be now.
Hours earlier, the Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert and the actor Tom Hanks had revealed that they’d tested positive for COVID-19, and the NBA had announced that it was suspending its season. Earlier that day, the World Health Organization had declared the novel coronavirus a pandemic. Our phones kept buzzing with a pileup of push notifications as we scrambled to finish our work.