Sports Suspended

Sports came to screeching halt in light of COVID-19 pandemic

By Ben Farrell

On the evening of Wednesday March 11, Utah Jazz starting center and reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert tested positive for novel Coronavirus, and within weeks, almost every major sporting event for the foreseeable future had been postponed or cancelled because of the virus. For some, these cancellations have caused the sudden disappearance of much-loved pastimes. For those whose livelihoods rely on sports, the situation has been far more dire. 

Wide ranging effects have altered the lives of journalists, from dashed coverage plans to lost wages, jobs and health insurance. According to Colten Bartholomew, and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter covering the University of Wisconsin football team, advertising revenue for Lee Enterprises, his publication’s parent company, tanked dramatically as a result of nationwide shutdowns. Executives at the media conglomerate took pay cuts across the board. On top of that, Bartholomew and other full-time employees are required to take two week-long furloughs over the course of the coming months.

Though it is hoped that these spending cuts will keep the publication afloat, Bartholomew remains cautious regarding his future employment. “If things continue like this, or get bad in any way, sports is obviously the first thing on the chopping block, on the local scale especially.” Because football is a fall sport, Bartholomew’s work has remained relatively unaffected by the quarantine thus far. “Lucky for them and me, Badgers players got their pro day in just before quarantine began,” he said.

The University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team and media members covering it weren’t so lucky. WSUM Sports Director, Badger’s Wire and USA Today contributor and Locked On Badgers host Asher Low’s lifelong dream of calling the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament was dashed. “It killed me to do this,” said Low, who is graduating from the University of Wisconsin this spring, “but on March 1, the day the Ivy League canceled, I said to myself, ‘look, we’re not going.’ It’s my favorite event in sports, and that was my last chance as a Badger to call it.”

With Badgers men’s basketball slated for an above-average performance this year, Low felt this could’ve been his single shot at a dream-like run with his classmates on the team. “I bet we would’ve gone to the second weekend too. We were looking really, really good,” he said. Low also detailed the adjustment of  producing current and newsworthy college sports pieces for the USA Today-owned blog Badgerswire, in the absence of meaningful sports news outside of the NFL Draft. “Ninety percent of what we’re putting out right now is the kind of stuff we know will get clicks anyway. Season in-review pieces, Badgers where-are-they-now pieces… but not having March Madness is just a huge adjustment that we weren’t ready for.”

Though media organizations that rely on small markets  are particularly vulnerable, COVID-19 related financial concerns have also led to furloughs at the national level. Mike Prada, former NBA editor at SB Nation, a leading blog in niche sports reporting, received word on April 15 that a three-month furlough, from May 1 to July 1, was on its way. Vox Media, SB Nation’s parent company, made the decision to furlough 20% of its editorial staff in light of COVID-19 related financial concerns.

Prada said the announcement was jarring, but he wasn’t completely taken off guard. “Sometime around mid-February, I began to sound the alarm to friends and family about what it would mean for the NBA and for the U.S. in general, that this was going to really mess things up,” he said. Prada attributed his foresight to the industry he works in. “Well, we cover sports, but this stuff clearly matters. The NBA claims that they were ahead of the curve as the first professional sports league to shut down, but the fact is they were planning before that, so it kind of came across in our work as we were gauging their response to all this.”

As of right now, Prada doesn’t have much to cover outside the NBA Draft. Usually this time of year would be chock-full of playoff basketball. Instead, the season was cut short on March 11. Most teams had played  62 to 65 of t—heir regular season games, leaving the 2020 championship vacant.

The postseason is an extremely important part of the NBA’s season, both symbolically and financially the crescendo at the end of the NBA’s lengthy regular season. To compound these concerns, television revenue from the playoffs is crucial to the league’s financial success. If the NBA does not finish its season, players, owners and executives stand to lose millions. “There’s a good chance they’ll try [to finish playoffs]. This league is all about money, so it’ll probably take some sort of government moratorium to stop them,” Prada said. 

Many in and around the league have discussed quarantining participating players, coaches and staff in a hotel and playing the games without an audience. Prada believes that the season should be scrapped due to safety concerns, even in light of what would be the resulting large-scale losses to both journalism and the NBA. “That model of putting guys in a hotel would be a cruise ship basically, functionally, and as we’ve seen, cruise ships—putting a lot of people in condensed spaces and incubating—have lead to some of the worst outbreaks.” 

The NBA announced on April 25 that they were planning to allow teams to open their practice facilities to players and staff beginning May 1, shifting focus onto when, not if the league will try to finish its season. 

That said, the future schedules of almost every sport at both the collegiate and professional levels remain unclear. Bartholomew voiced concerns about lost revenue affecting play in the future. “If college football isn’t played next year, and since we didn’t have March Madness, a lot of these teams might have to consider cutting programs,” he said.

For now, journalists and fans alike will have to wait and see how leagues worldwide address these issues. Prada, though, perhaps the most well known of the three, was most skeptical about the future of sports journalism. “Probably, we’ll see a drop in the number of legitimate NBA insiders, and a clearing out of the middle, of midsize publications.” Though Prada’s words should be taken seriously, nobody can predict what will happen in coming months. Now comes the waiting.

Food Security

Rising demand, lower donations and higher stakes: How food pantries are keeping people fed during the pandemic

By Molly DeVore

Open Seat has moved their pantry from the fourth floor of the SAC to the sidewalk outside Union South.

A line forms in front of two folding tables outside Union South. It looks like a typical campus event, only there is no one else around and the people behind the table are wearing face masks– these students aren’t selling posters or asking you to sign up for their org, they’re giving out pre-packaged bags of groceries. 

Open Seat used to operate out of the Student Activity Center feeding around 2,000 University of Wisconsin students a month, but COVID-19 has changed everything. 

The SAC, along with all other campus buildings, has been closed. Zoey Dlott, UW senior and Internal Director for Open Seat, said they have started distributing a virtual order form where students can sign up to receive a bag of pre-packaged groceries that they can then pick up outside Union South from noon to one every Tuesday. 

Students are instructed to stand six feet apart from one another and Open Seat workers wear masks and gloves at all times. The prepackaged bags are donated by Second Harvest Foodbank, southwestern Wisconsin’s largest hunger-relief charity. 

In Wisconsin, these food resources are essential as about 1 in 10 households in Wisconsin were food insecure before the pandemic, according to the Wisconsin Food Security Project. However, COVID has led to a spike in demand and a drop in donations, forcing Second Harvest to purchase more of its food directly. 

Michelle Orge, Second Harvest’s CEO, said that in the 20 years she has worked with food banks she has never seen a situation as bad as COVID.

“As food bankers we’re just used to trying to fix everything.” Orge said. “But I don’t know if we’re built for this. It’s pretty big and we’re doing a great job and we’re keeping up to some extent, but it’s gonna take more resources to do what we want to do.”

All Open Seat workers must wear masks.

Second Harvest is a member foodbank of Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization. Feeding America reported that almost all 200 food banks in their network have experienced a spike in demand, yet nearly 60% are facing reduced inventory levels.

Orge said Second Harvest is now distributing more than double the amount of food, despite a decrease in donations. 

Because of this increased need Second Harvest has had to focus all of their resources on their Mobile Pantries. These pantries travel across southwestern Wisconsin, though some days they run out of their pre-packaged boxes before everyone has been fed. Orge said that hearing someone had to be turned away is “the worst possible news.”

Second Harvest is not the only food resource that has had to drastically change the way it functions. Barb Luedke, food pantry coordinator for the Keep, a pantry providing food for local students, faculty members and staff, said they had to move their operations from the basement of Luther Memorial Church to the sidewalk out front. 

The Keep also receives their donations from Second Harvest, meaning they have made the shift from self-selection to pre-packaged bags. 

The Keep gives out 10 lb bags every Thursday afternoon, including non-perishables as well as produce and dairy products when they can get them. So far they have had enough food for everyone who shows up, though Luedke said the situation changes day-to-day. 

“The word is flexible these days,” Luedke said. “Everything is subject to change is the second term we hear so often.” 

Both Second Harvest and the Keep have had to operate with less volunteers as many have been asked to stay home due to their advanced age and therefore, increased vulnerability to COVID-19.

 According to Feeding America, member food banks across their network have shown nearly a 60% decrease in volunteers. Orge said that due to this decrease, Second Harvest has hired 15 laid off service workers as additional temporary staff, another unforseen added cost. 

While some food resources are scrambling to meet the growing need, others have had to stop operating entirely. 

The Campus Food Shed, a student organization working to address campus food insecurity and reduce food waste, had to shut down mid March. 

The Food Shed stocks a fridge in the SAC with unsellable food from Fresh Madison Market and Madison Sourdough. This food is available to any student for free. Now that the SAC is closed, they have had to stop. 

Kayva Ayalasomayajula, a junior at UW and Campus Food Shed team member, said she is worried about the impact this loss of food will have on students, as according to a study published by the College and University Food Bank Alliance, one in five students in the U.S. identifies as food insecure. 

“Many students are out of jobs so they’re more worried about paying their rent than buying fruits and vegetables,” Ayalasomayajul said. “Nutrition is so important for mental health and immune functioning, that’s something that we’re worried about especially because it’s already such a stressful time.”

This rise in unemployment is impacting food pantries across the country. According to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, the number of unemployment applications filed on March 30th was 24,664, more than 20 times the amount filed on this date last year. 

According to Feeding America, this rise in unemployment paired with school closures could result in an estimated 46% increase in the number of  people experiencing food insecurity nationally.

Dlott said Open Seat is prepared to serve this potential increase in hungry students. That if campus reopens this fall they will be able to double the amount of food they order each week.

“The pandemic has impacted everyone in a different way but what a lot of people don’t understand is that the pantry is how most students who use the pantry normally get the majority of their food,” Dlott said. “With people being out of jobs… it makes now even more important than ever that we provide this service.”

Dlott and Luedke urged those who are financially able, to donate money to Second Harvest, and those who are healthy, to volunteer.

Orge said that without their current volunteers and donations they would not be able to stay open. Second Harvest and other local food resources will continue to need this community support, because as Orge said, the demand will not be going away anytime soon.

“Don’t forget about us once this subsides because we’re still gonna be here feeding people and even more people than we’ve fed before,” Orge said, “It’s not gonna be over when it’s over for people who are still food insecure.”

Impact on DNC

How COVID-19 pandemic will impact upcoming DNC, November election

By Harrison Freuck

Voters in Wisconsin were outraged about the decisions by Evers, Wisconsin legislature leading up to a poorly-planned election in the midst of a pandemic

Photo courtesy of Tamia Fowlkes

On Tuesday, April 7, all eyes were on Wisconsin as hundreds of thousands of voters emerged from their homes to vote after a late response from Gov. Tony Evers (D) to delay the Spring General Election amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, a decision that was then overturned by the Republican-controlled state Supreme Court.

The failure to delay the election by Evers and then the Wisconsin Supreme Court upset voters statewide, resulting in era-defining images like this one from Journal Sentinel intern Patricia McKnight.

Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) was a candidate for Milwaukee County Executive, running against David Crowley, who would win the election by an estimated 1,039 votes out of more than 192,000 ballots cast.

“Initially, Evers thought there were easier ways to solve the problem, like pushing vote by mail,” Larson said. “But as the election got closer, I think they realized they hadn’t accounted for a lack of poll workers and the public’s willingness to actually go out and vote. There were a lot of people who were upset that they were forced to go out and vote and put their lives in danger.”

Despite the fact that the election went on in the midst of a pandemic and in-person turnout was way down, the number of absentee ballots cast were way up, accounting for 71% of total votes compared to just 10% in the spring election of 2016, according to NPR.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has had negative impacts on nearly everyone, the pandemic has also made many question how it will impact Election Day in November.

“I think now we have more of a runway leading into the November election,” Larson said. “That gives us a lot of time to look at how to push people to vote from home. It gives candidates and supporters of candidates time to look at how to reach voters. It gives clerks the ability to account for getting [absentee] ballots out in time and they can anticipate that’s likely to happen.”

Larson added that since it is virtually impossible to meet face-to-face with voters, new candidates will face an uphill battle in terms of collecting signatures to get their names on ballots, as this step can now only be done via mail and email. This will also force new candidates to rely on cultivated relationships instead of new ones.

Larson also said there is a strong chance the November election will be entirely or at least primarily run via absentee ballots.

“There’s a number of bills that are trying to change the rules for absentee ballots for the November election,” Larson said. “There are moves to make that part of the next package of relief bills for COVID-19. It would need to be a nationwide effort because each state has its own laws that govern absentee voting.”

While the November election is still months away, the bigger concern for Democrats and the state of Wisconsin right now is the Democratic National Convention which was set to take place in Milwaukee in July before being postponed to the week of August 17-20.

Larson’s brother, Dave, served as the senior director of hospitality for the convention before being laid off in mid-April as much of his role was eliminated with the convention likely to shift to a virtual shell of its usual self.

“The event was supposed to bring 50,000 people to town,” Dave Larson said. “Realistically, there’s no way that can happen now. They’re still working on a number of scenarios but the best bet is it will be virtual.”

While Dave Larson discussed the logistics regarding visitors and guests of the convention, Chris Larson talked about how Milwaukee was unlucky with the timing of the virus.

“Milwaukee basically got screwed out of $200 million of economic activity that we should have got out of the DNC,” Chris Larson said.

With many DNC events already cancelled and the rest of the convention delayed by at least a few weeks, the DNC planning committee has turned their attention to making the best of what they have, figuring out how to integrate technology with the events and keynote speeches that were set to happen at the convention.

Dave Larson also talked about the November election, directly relating it back to the questionable decisions made in Wisconsin in April.

“A lot of people will look at what took place in Wisconsin a few weeks ago to determine what’s the best way forward for November, including the political arms of both parties,” Dave Larson said. “The DNC and RNC will try to figure out the best way to engage their voters. Voting by mail is the one that makes sense but politics will determine how it will take place.”

While there are many uncertainties about the November election, it is all but guaranteed the COVID-19 pandemic will play a role in election protocols and how the election takes place, as well as an impact on election outcomes.

Bridging the Gap

6 Ways Telehealth Has Been Bridging the Gap Between UW-Madison Students and UHS

By Jennifer Hwang

1. UHS has been providing telehealth services since March 16.

According to Interim Director of Mental Health Services at UHS, Andrea Lawson, the school clinic reached out to every student who had an in-person appointment scheduled to better understand what their current needs were in the context of COVID-19. “For some students, their need for support was less, and for others it was more or at least different,” Lawson said. “We are offering continuity of care to all students already connected to us, regardless of their location.” UHS has been able to serve students with phone or video-based services, with state licensing laws for mental health services in mind. When UHS cannot be the one to help students due to the law, they can connect students to local resources.

2. 70-80% of students are using telehealth services, with a significant uptick in students utilizing SilverCloud.

UHS has been at its typical capacity for counseling, although they are seeing a large increase in the number of students who are signing up for and actively using SilverCloud, Lawson said. The platform is an online cognitive behavior-based self-help tool that students and faculty can use. “Since March 16, 332 new students have started using the platform, in comparison to 125 students who used SilverCloud during the same time period last year,” Lawson said.

3. Students struggling with serious medical and mental health issues are getting access to medication in the midst of the pandemic.

Based on symptoms, UHS providers can diagnose and treat severe medical concerns by sending prescriptions electronically to a student’s local pharmacy.

4. UHS providers have been conducting telehealth sessions from home. 

“To limit their need to travel and interact with others in accordance with the ‘Safer at Home’ order, almost all UHS staff are providing services from their homes,” Lawson said. “Each provider went through training to be able to understand the technology [they] are using, along with best practices for providing teletherapy.” At their homes, UHS providers have been virtually seeing students in confidential, private spaces.

5. UHS appreciates any feedback from students who have been using telehealth to improve their services.

The school clinic has been working on launching student satisfaction surveys. Currently, students can provide feedback through the ‘Tell Us How We’re Doing’ form online. Also, UHS has come up with some new online resources to help students, found here.

6. Students experiencing mental health emergencies can rely on UHS.

“We’ve developed protocols particularly for this time, including confirming the location of the student at the time of the appointment, developing an emergency support plan, and identifying local crisis resources for students to reach out to if needed,” Lawson said. The UHS crisis line is available 24/7 at 608-265-5600 Option 9, and on call services can be reached at 608-265-5600 Option 2.

Local Character Halted

Part of Madison’s character halted by COVID-19 pandemic

By Hunter Carroll

Every week from Tuesday-Sunday, the Kollege Klub is packed with students looking to have a good time with their friends. Unfortunately, the bar is now empty for the foreseeable future due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As COVID-19, a strain of the Coronavirus, continues to spread around the world, many people whose jobs are considered “nonessential” are left out of work. Bars fall under the category of nonessential, forcing their employees to close shop until the government deems it safe for them to reopen.

Bars are not only a major part of the culture of Wisconsin, but they are also essential to Madison’s character. People in Madison love the bar culture. Whether it be to watch the Badgers, Packers or just a night out for a good time with friends, Madison’s bars are always packed, especially the Kollege Klub.

‘The KK’ is considered by many to be one of the best bars in Madison, especially for events like Friday After Class, parents weekend and of course, game days in the fall. 

Because of what seem like endless crowds that come into the KK, it is also one of the most popular bars in Madison to work at.

I spoke with Jordan Meier, owner of the KK, about the closure of his bar. Meier has been working full time at the KK since 2006. This is the first time the KK has been forced to close since he has been there.

Meier said, “The KK was last forced closed when the city suspended our liquor license for 30 days back in the early 2000s. That was before my time but from what I can remember the managers weren’t doing a very good job of enforcing the rules. A lot has changed since back then.”

This closure has left all employees of the bar out of work, from bartenders, to bouncers, even the D.J.’s at the bar.

I, along with Mike Reuhl, work as a D.J. at the KK multiple nights throughout the week playing music for customers. While I have only had the position for a little over a year, Mike has been working at the KK off and on since 2008. I talked to Mike about his time at the KK and about the recent closure.

“I knew back in January that it was going to probably affect us because we weren’t really doing anything about it at that point. It was happening in China at that time and you could see that the spread was massive. Then the CDC came out towards the end of February and said people should buy two weeks of food and supplies and that’s when I knew it was happening,” Reuhl said.

Mike knew that his time as a D.J. was going to be cut short for the school year, but he did not know when.

“The week before spring break I said to myself that this is probably the last time I’m going to be seeing a lot of the seniors. Even if people are staying in Madison, we are going to be closed,” Reuhl said.

While Reuhl is upset about the closure, there are many memories that he can look back on at the KK, like their recent event hosted by Friday Beers where the entire bar got free beer all afternoon. He said he had never seen the KK like that before.

While it can be fun to look back on the good times, not knowing when businesses will be able to open again and employees will be able to return to work is something that Reuhl is skeptical about. 

“I think that bars and restaurants will be closed for a while. I think it will last way through summer and even into next year. I’m surprised that the government didn’t make even more restrictions. I thought there were going to be restrictions about going in and out of cities, all the way to martial law,” Reuhl said. 

Like many people, Reuhl has found other activities to stay busy during this time at home, like shooting rifles for sport and walking to stay active. He also has been cooking a lot with his girlfriend. 

While these are all fun things to do, Reuhl, along with many others across the country, still worry about not having a job and not having a source of income.

“I applied for the CARES Act because I was a full time D.J. so I qualified for support and got a decent chunk of change from that.”

The CARES Act is a Federal Stimulus Bill that was passed by Congress on March 27, 2020. The Department of Workforce Development website says that “within the CARES Act are three benefits, like $600 a week in unemployment benefits, that unemployed individuals may be eligible to receive if they are not eligible for regular Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits.” 

For now, those that are unemployed can benefit from this stimulus bill, but everyone hopes to get back to normal sooner than later.