Don’t Call it a Comeback

After months without new sports content, May brought fans much to look forward to as some sports leagues began to implement return-to-play protocols.

And the proof is in the ratings.

Last weekend, NASCAR got back to the track after a 10-week hiatus and the Bundesliga, Germany’s primary football league, returned after 65 days of hibernation. Both sports leagues reopened with rigorous new protocols to protect competitors and team staff – stands were empty and only essential personnel were present.

It’s a bizarre new normal for live sports, but the viewership numbers tell a very positive story.

  • 6.32 million viewers tuned in to watch the NASCAR race on May 17, up 38% from the last race prior to the COVID-19 shutdown.
  • NASCAR viewership reached a three-year high for any race other than the Daytona-500.
  • The first Bundesliga game on May 16 garnered record international viewership.
  • The U.S. saw a 489% increase over the pre-pandemic Saturday average for Bundesliga viewership – top markets were Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, Kansas City and Tampa.

Americans are still waiting for major sports like baseball, basketball and football to resume.

But if the NASCAR and Bundesliga numbers are any indication, those sports leagues will see a sizable bump in viewership when they do.

On the Road Again?

All 50 states are planning to ease restrictions on stay-at-home orders, but do Americans plan to embrace their newfound freedom this Memorial Day Weekend?

Memorial Day is usually one of the busiest travel days of the year, but only 5% plan to travel this holiday weekend. Concerns about getting sick, uncertainty about how to travel safely, and fears of being forced to quarantine continue to hold people back.

Americans are looking for official guidance from the CDC and health experts to know it is safe to travel again, but until then, anxieties could continue to hamper travel plans.

What will travel look like for Americans who do plan to venture out? Road trips and private vacation rentals are set to make a comeback as many remain hesitant about flying and staying in hotels.

But as American deaths surpass casualties of the Vietnam War, many may take a more somber, traditional approach to Memorial Day. 20% of the conversation about Memorial Day Weekend mentions honoring or remembering the heroes who have sacrificed for our country.

Digital Diplomacy

As the school year comes to an end, politicians and celebrities helped celebrate the Class of 2020 with a line-up of virtual commencement addresses.

Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) and Oprah Winfrey all gave individual commencement addresses. But Graduate Together, an hour-long event honoring high school seniors organized by The Lebron James Family Foundation, the educational nonprofit XQ, and the Entertainment Industry Foundation, stole the spotlight.

The online “ceremony’ featured a constellation of stars from Pharrell Williams to Megan Rapinoe to Malala Yousafzai, not to mention President Barack Obama.

More than 7 million Americans across the country tuned in, making it the most watched program on Saturday night and among the top five most watched programs for the week.

Commencement was also a popular topic of conversation on Twitter as a star-powered lineup of addresses aired throughout the week on television and social platforms.

The conversation reached peak volume on Saturday night during Graduate Together.  

Seven-in-ten tweets focused on President Obama’s addresses to graduates— including his address to graduates of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs)— calling on the Class of 2020 to build a community and overcome division.

How The Tables Have Turned

Social distancing protocols still persist globally, but restaurants are reopening in creative ways that keep diners distanced—and hopefully make up for lost revenue at the same time.

In Amsterdam, a vegan restaurant built mini greenhouses over each of its outdoor tables. Pairs of patrons can book the tables to eat privately in a structure that’s a logical extension of the typical plant-based experience.

Stateside, a popular waterfront spot in Ocean City, MD, rolled out new “social distancing tables” last weekend. Shaped like oversized inner tubes, the wheeled tables keep customers safely separated from other patrons.

Meanwhile, Michelin-starred Inn at Little Washington in Virginia re-opened its dining room at 50 percent capacity last week. Instead of leaving half of the seats empty, the owner filled them with mannequins clad in 1940s-era fashion.

As for DC, takeout and delivery remain diners’ only options. Mayor Muriel Bowser said “it makes no sense” to open restaurants in the District while the death toll continues to rise.

Where the Wild Things Are

A new bill aims to reduce the likelihood of future pandemics by clamping down on wildlife markets.

As many as 75% of new or emerging infectious diseases among humans—including Ebola, H1N1 and now, COVID-19— are believed to be zoonotic, or originating from an animal.

Bipartisan legislation introduced yesterday would pressure governments to shut down markets that sell high-risk wildlife for human consumption and curb the global illegal and unregulated trade in wildlife.

Lawmakers and conservation experts say both factors are making these types of outbreaks more likely.

Specifically, the bill directs US government agencies to identify which species and practices in live wildlife markets are most likely to spark a zoonotic disease outbreak and to work with foreign governments to close them.

It also authorizes the president to sanction nations where high-risk wildlife markets remain open.

The bill was introduced by Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and is supported by leading conservation organizations including World Wildlife Fund and Conservation International.

There’s also growing support for regulation of the sale and consumption of high-risk wildlife products in the regions where they are most common. A recent survey found 93% of respondents across Southeast and East Asia support efforts to close all illegal and unregulated markets selling wild animals.

A Gathering Storm

With state and national emergency resources strained and social distancing nearly impossible in shelters, summer storm season poses a new threat during the pandemic.

Cyclone Amphan made landfall in India and Bangladesh today, challenging authorities as they try to protect people from the storm and coronavirus. India has more than 100,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, while Bangladesh has 25,000.

Millions of people were evacuated in anticipation of the storm in both countries, but some residents fearing infection have refused to move into shelters. India and Bangladesh are using schools and other buildings as temporary shelters, but they need more space to maintain social distancing. Some cyclone shelters are already being used to house quarantined virus patients and migrant workers returning to their home villages after cities shut down. 

As the Atlantic Basin prepares to enter hurricane season, Louisiana and Florida are beginning to make pandemic storm preparations. Only fifteen years have passed since Hurricane Katrina felled New Orleans, which at one point fueled the highest rate of new coronavirus cases anywhere in the world.

Earlier this month, the CDC released guidelines to reduce the spread of COVID-19 for people staying in disaster shelters during severe weather events.

As climate change increases the frequency and intensity of natural disasters, governments must be prepared to handle dual threats.

An Open-And-Shut Case?

There’s growing consensus among public health officials that it’s time to reopen the country safely.

States have been reopening over the last few weeks despite rising case counts and the absence of a comprehensive national reopening strategy.

And now a bipartisan group of twenty-one public health officials have authored a new open letter in USA Today advocating for the safe, phased reopening of the country.

“We don’t believe we need to wait until everything is completely perfect or there is zero risk before we open again,” the authors write.

“The reality is that many states are already taking the first steps toward opening, and this must happen in the safest way possible.”

The officials recommend states employ widespread testing, contact tracing and other mitigation techniques as they gradually reopen low-risk businesses— like doctor’s offices and coffee shops— followed by businesses like restaurants and movie theaters, with modifications. 

Today, former CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden also released an op-ed proposing an alert level system to guide states in reopening.

And this morning, the CDC released a 60-page document outlining its three-phased approach.

Convention Contention?

Divergent approaches to national convention planning has some Democrats worried about ceding the spotlight to Republicans.

Democratic National Committee organizers are designing the event based on three contingencies, depending on the pandemic’s severity in August:

  • A full convention, if health conditions permit;
  • A mostly virtual convention featuring a limited in-person presence in Milwaukee; or
  • An entirely remote convention.

But the vast majority of delegates— both longtime delegates and first-time attendees of all ages—don’t want to attend in-person, even if social distancing measures are in place.

Even those who are planning to go expressed concerns. One prospective attendee said he would haul his own boat from Tennessee and stay on Lake Michigan rather than risk a hotel room.

Meanwhile, Republicans – at President Trump’s urging – are moving “full-steam ahead” in planning an in-person convention.

Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said Monday the party “will not be holding a virtual convention,” pledging events will be conducted at least partly in person.

The optics of Republicans putting on a full convention the week after a scaled-down or completely virtual Democratic event has some Democratic Party officials concerned.

They fear Democrats could further cede the political spotlight and momentum to President Trump, who already enjoys the advantage of the presidential bully pulpit.