#AskNewser: Anchors, Correspondents Recall Their Most Memorable Pandemic Moment During the Past Year

By A.J. Katz 

It’s exactly one year since the coronavirus was officially deemed a worldwide pandemic by the World Health Organization. Remarkable, isn’t it?

Life has been turned upside down over the past 365 days. More than 500,000 Americans have died, millions have become ill, businesses have been shut down, standing more than a few feet from one another has become par for the course, people now wear (or are supposed to wear) masks when they’re walking around outside, and working from home has become second nature.

For the next installment of our #AskNewser franchise, we asked anchors and correspondents to reflect on the past year.

Featured are Fox News America’s Newsroom co-anchors Bill Hemmer and Dana Perino, ABC World News Tonight Saturday anchor and GMA Weekend co-anchor Whit Johnson, ABC News White House correspondent Mary Bruce, CNN White House correspondent John Harwood, CBS News White House correspondent Weijia Jiang, MSNBC American Voices host Alicia Menendez, NBC News Now anchor Alison Morris, CNBC correspondent Kayla Tausche, senior health and science reporter Meg Tirrell, Fast Money Halftime Report host Scott Wapner, MSNBC Weekends with Alex Witt host Alex Witt, and CBS News correspondent Jamie Yuccas.

TVNewser: At this time one year ago, how long did you think everyone else would be working from home for?

Bruce: I think like most I thought we would all be home for a few weeks, mostly because I just couldn’t imagine life as we knew it coming to a complete, indefinite stop. I will never forget being on the air covering President Trump’s remarks after the WHO declared this a global pandemic. The news the NBA was suspending its season came in and then word that Tom Hanks had tested positive. My producer and I looked at each other and just knew everything was about to change. At the time, I had been on the road almost non-stop covering the presidential candidates. The idea that the entire 2020 campaign would come to a permanent screeching halt was really hard to wrap your mind around.

Mary Bruce

Harwood: “I had no idea that we’d be away from our offices this long, assumed it would be a matter of weeks. Considering that this has been a once in a century pandemic, we couldn’t have known what to expect.”

Hemmer: “I had no clue. My best guidance was a waitress at the Oceana restaurant on 49th street who on the evening on March 13, a Friday, came over to our table and said ‘You know we are closing tonight.’ A massive restaurant in Midtown, mind you. ‘They told us not to come back until April 1.’ April 1? You’ll be out of business by then, I thought. I’m one of the few anchors that remained in the office for the full year— there has been a handful of people on my floor. It’s a hard thing to explain—an enormous Midtown Manhattan office floor, that likely covers four soccer fields, and it is essentially empty. You can have a conversation in one corner and they can hear you in the other. There’s a building directly across the street at eye level. 20th floor. This is Midtown Manhattan. I have yet to see a human being move on any floor in 12 months.”

Bill Hemmer

Jiang: The White House unit did not entirely work from home, but we started a strict new rotation that drastically cut back the number of people who worked went there every day. I thought it would last a month, if that. I certainly didn’t think our lives would be turned upside down —both professionally and personally. As chaotic as it was, once we adjusted to our new worlds I started looking for unexpected blessings. They weren’t hard to find. As a mom working from home meant that I got to see my baby much more often than I would have under normal circumstances, especially during a Presidential campaign year. At work, I found “Zooms” connected me with my colleagues in a new way.

Weijia Jiang

Johnson: “At this time a year ago, when the country began to shut down and people started working from home, I was among those who stayed ‘in the field.’ As cases surged in New York, the country needed to see what was happening in our hospitals… so that’s what I did.  Every day was like trying to drink from a fire hose.  A seemingly endless flood of information that we needed to make sense of and explain. Sure, there were moments when we’d work from home if we were exposed to someone with Covid or when we reduced capacity in the studios, but most weeks we were in the middle of it. We knew this was the biggest and most impactful story of a generation.  We took precautions, especially with masks and social distancing, but we also accepted the risks that came with covering the story first-hand.  I remember having conversations with my friends and family about how long the lockdowns would last. In the beginning last spring, I tried to reassure them that things would get better in a month or so. By summer, I knew how wrong I was. A year later, I’m done making predictions.”

Menendez: I thought we’d be back by summer. Or maybe I hoped. What I know for sure is that this question was in sharp focus because our team was figuring out when and how to launch a new show, from home, in the midst of a pandemic, presidential election and national movement for racial justice. For a show that promised to center the new American majority, the stakes felt especially high. As individuals, we were processing both personal loss and the enormity of our professional responsibility. Personally, like a lot of parents, I was overwhelmed by a different question: how long my small child would be out of daycare. Working from home was manageable. I knew how lucky we were. And still I wondered how I’d ever produce television while also answering 21 questions about why Elsa has magical powers and Anna does not. I am still trying to figure that out.

Alicia Menendez

Morris: “At the beginning, my show was still operating out of 30 Rock but pretty quickly we all went remote and built a makeshift home studio. In fact, I was the one who put it together the first time around. To be honest, I didn’t think we’d still be working from home through the Summer let alone all year and beyond.”

Alison Morris

Perino: “I remember packing a few things before we left the city on March 20th, and I thought, ‘Okay I have enough for three weeks, four at a stretch.’ My husband Peter said he could come back to the city for more things if I needed them. Little did we know we would be there until late September and a little bit in between then and January 2021. Two weeks to slow the spread has become a year of lockdown. The happiest being in our family was Jasper, our 8-year-old Vizsla. He hates being left alone. Well, he’s never been left alone since Covid!”

Dana Perino

Tausche: “Like most of the country, I expected the quarantine to last two weeks—and that was it. Live television is not an industry that traditionally lends itself to working from home, and I couldn’t fathom it being possible beyond a limited period of time. After loading up on shelf-stable foods, I stopped by Fox News’ Kristin Fisher’s house nearby and we planned White House lunches and toddler playdates for the following month ‘when this is all over.’ Wishful thinking!”

Tirrell: “When we all came home, I assumed it would be for a few weeks, and even set up my home TV camera setup in an area where my toddler could find me easily, thinking it would just be for a short period of time… months in, I realized I had to hide to increase productivity! And a year later I’ve got a full TV studio in my attic.”

Meg Tirrell

Wapner: “I never actually worked from home which is one of the most interesting parts of the pandemic for me. From Day 1, I came in to CNBC’s Headquarters and did my show. It was just the way it worked out and once I started doing that I wanted to stick to a dedicated routine. I feel it helped me get through the darkest moments of the crisis—to know that I had a routine to stick to. I’m glad I did.”

Witt: Initially, I expected the pandemic changes would last a month, maybe two. But reporting on the widely different state-by-state approaches to combatting the virus quickly changed my expectations. Given the remote nature of the shows, we’ve all learned to roll with the tech glitches, and hearing things through my IFB that are definitely NOT meant for me.

Alex Witt

Yuccas: “On Saturday, [March 14], I shot a story at Hope Breakfast Bar [in St. Paul, Minn]. The owners could already start seeing that their business was about to change and started to transition to a community kitchen. I had dinner at my brother’s that night with all the doors open and we sat far apart. We used tongs as we passed food. We then watched Contagion. Which takes place in Minneapolis. It was a little too real and freaked me out. The next day I got the call to head home and sit tight in L.A. That first week was busy, because California shut down before any other state. We met crews in the field and things felt somewhat normal. Like covering a brushfire in our backyard. The second week became a little more real. The third week, I was at home the whole week and freaked out. I tried setting up interviews by Zoom and coordinating with producers on future projects. A month in, I tried cutting my own hair. And I thought, ‘Oh no, this is going to last for awhile.'”

What’s the one pandemic moment during the past year that stands out the most to you, and why?

Bruce: “Professionally speaking, I would have to say covering the 2020 conventions. The stark difference in how the two candidates approached these events was such a reflection of how they were handling this crisis and promising to lead the country out of this moment. Both events were completely surreal. Spending days in a Delaware parking lot covering the Democrats drive-in convention only days later to be on the South Lawn of the White House before a packed crowd was something I’ll never forget.”

Harwood: “The moment that stands out to me, having gradually adjusted to the threat and burden coronavirus represented, was late last year when we got word of the spectacular Pfizer vaccine trial data. That was blissful confirmation of what I had been expecting: that science had figured this virus out and was going to lead us back to daylight. Then Moderna followed. And now I can hug my 92-year-old mom again. Here comes the sun.”

John Harwood

Hemmer: “I believe the events of this pandemic are so significant that you will mark this time in your life on what is ‘Before Covid, After Covid and During Covid.’ Right now we are still in the DC phase. If you are asking me to pick one moment, it is nearly impossible. I think about empty storefronts on every corner of Manhattan, I think about the moments at 7 p.m. when people applaud at the window, I think about the riots that quickly followed and extinguished all of those cheers. I think about Uber rides on empty streets in a city I could never envision as empty. The country has yet to understand how thoroughly affected the island of Manhattan has been—more than 9-11, more than the financial collapse of ’08-’09—a victim to the virus and endless regulations enforced by local government.”

Jiang: After President Trump returned to the White House from Walter Reed, where he was treated for Covid-19, he stood on the balcony and defiantly took off his mask before live cameras.

The moment stands out to me because it defined his response to the pandemic, which proved to be inadequate. He repeatedly rejected science, refused to lead by example, and spread misinformation about the virus. That moment was especially jarring because after he contracted the Covid himself, I thought he might change his strategy and messaging to highlight the gravity of the situation. He didn’t.

Johnson: “I was there when the first patient arrived at the newly constructed field hospital in Central Park. It seemed so calm at first… one ambulance slowly rolling up as the birds chirped in the trees. But then came another patient. And another. And another. Soon there were multiple people being kept alive on ventilators under the shelter of big white heated tents. This was Central Park! The urban escape for millions of New Yorkers… was now serving as an overflow area because our hospitals were out of space. I’ll never forget the images of that field hospital in Central Park and neither will the history books.”

Whit Johnson

Morris: “Every time we have NBC News correspondent Ellison Barber on, it’s an unforgettable Covid moment for me. She’s made me tear up at least twice on air during the pandemic. She takes us inside hospitals and shows us what people are going through when fighting Covid alone. It’s been a strong reminder of how fortunate I am to have my health and work for a company that enables us to work so seamlessly from home, as well as how careful we all need to be for one another.”

Perino: “While I initially got a kick out of family zooms and virtual happy hours with friends, my best memory came right before the lockdown. We got to go to the Eagles’ concert at Madison Square Garden—we knew all the words and sang until we were hoarse. We are looking forward to events like that in the future. It is almost over!”

Tausche: “In a year marked so much seriousness and grief, it’s the moments of levity that stand out. After a quiet morning at my outdoor liveshot, two separate neighbors had lawn crews arrive—and fire up their leaf blowers–right as I was about to go on the air to discuss the historic appointment of Janet Yellen as Treasury secretary on an NBC News Special Report. I scribbled “PLEASE STOP FOR 10 MINUTES” on a piece of paper, and my amazing cameraman sprinted from yard to yard, holding it up to try to broker some quiet. We still laugh about that to this day.”

Kayla Tausche

Tirell: “Covering vaccine and drug development, the pandemic moment that stands out for me was the moment the first vaccine results came in: 90% efficacy. It meant we had a path out of this dark year. It was a rare time on live TV of sheer joy.”

Wapner: “I guess the biggest moment that jumps out for me was the day the Pfizer Vaccine was first announced last November, simply because it was a ray of light inside so much darkness and despair.  Some days I wondered if this would ever end.  At that moment, I knew it would and I was so thankful there was something positive to look forward to.  I can’t believe people are actually getting vaccines now.  It’s an incredible achievement.”

Scott Wapner

Witt: After a year of many significant Covid related moments, the most recent one was one of the most impactful: the moment we passed the count of 500,000 Americans who died from the virus, while interviewing Noel Quintana, an Asian American New Yorker targeted in a brutal, and horrifically wrong, attack on the subway. Listening to him share his story was heartbreaking, and coupled with reporting the tragic milestone, I was reduced to tears on the live broadcast. Dr. Kavita Patel joined me to discuss the half-million milestone and she, too, was fighting back tears.

Yuccas: “Oh man. It has to be putting my 17-year-old Jack Russell-Rat terrier, Dottie, to sleep. She had lived with me in four states, comforted me through countless failed relationships, grieved deaths with me, traveled to countless states and was so tired. She and I had gotten to spend 8 solid weeks together without me traveling for work. I’ll forever be grateful for that time. I had to put her to sleep the day before leaving for Minneapolis to cover the death of George Floyd. It was almost like she waited to make sure I was ok and then passed on. And I went back to work, covering one of the hardest stories of my career, in my hometown. Ironically, the city I had fled to get back to LA before the pandemic shut the world down was then the first I ran to cover some of the most important headlines of our time.”

Jamie Yuccas

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