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Hari Sreenivasan speaks with Christopher Booker about some of the most memorable stories he covered in what turned out to be an out-of-the-ordinary year: New York state’s first mobile COVID-19 testing site, the George Floyd protests in New York City, and working through social distancing while out in the field.
We've been looking back at some of the stories from 2020 with our team of producers here at NewsHour Weekend. Hari Sreenivasan speaks with Christopher Booker about some of the stories he covered in what turned out to be an out-of-the-ordinary year
Chris, in some ways, it's almost like dog years, it seems so long ago when you went out to New Rochelle, New York, where one of the first clusters of coronavirus occurred.
That's right. We went out. It was March 14th that the piece ran, which was a Saturday and this was the very first day that New York State had opened a mobile testing site and at that time, they had tested 200 people and they were estimating that they were going to be able to test 500 people the next day with the hopes of being able to test 6,000 people of it a day and just yesterday, I just looked New York tested almost 250,000 people.
And there was just at the time there was so much uncertainty because we were still figuring out what the effects of this virus were going to be on our society.
That's right and New Rochelle was the first community to go into essentially a containment zone and what's interesting is the mayor at the time said, listen, this isn't a quarantine. This doesn't mean that people can't come and go into New Rochelle, but it's essentially in an effort to contain the virus and what's amazing is the people we spoke to at the time, no one was wearing a mask. No one really knew what was to come. We went and spoke with a small little restaurant and the restaurant owner was saying, "yeah, business is way down." I actually just called them today to see if they were still in business. And sure enough, they're still doing takeout. One of the haunting aspects from that New Rochelle report is that during our two way, we reported the very first death in New York State.
Chris, we have any idea how the virus is spreading in New York?
Right now, what we know and this will certainly change is that there are over 500 confirmed cases in New York state, the majority of which are in New York City and just this morning, New York State reported its first death, an 82-year-old woman in New York City who had been suffering from emphysema did indeed die from the coronavirus.
Christopher Booker joining us from New Rochelle tonight. Thanks so much.
Since that time, New York has had 36,000 deaths and climbing. It's just unbelievable that in such a short amount of time, there's been such loss.
Chris, you were one of the people that we sent out, along with Mori Rothman, to cover some of the protests in the wake of George Floyd's death.
I have to do something. I can't just stay home and pretend like this isn't happening. Hopefully, this brings us closer. Stops the violence, especially against people that look like myself and others.
That was actually my very first time out reporting since the pandemic began. It was one of those moments that felt too big. It was clearly, there had something had changed and it felt very important that we needed to be there and bear witness and to present what the situation was like on the ground. It was surreal to come and see Mori Rothman and Sam Weber in person. I remember we walked into the corner of near Sam's apartment and I couldn't believe I was looking at them. I said, "This is so strange. Here you are in person."
And also what was fascinating was Sam and Mori both live in the city, whereas I live in the country and their pandemic experience was so different than mine because I had such a fear. I was really fearful to be near everyone, to be close to people, but they had been kind of maneuvering through this within the city in a way that was clearly different than my own, but speaking of the protests, we had seen images of violence and destruction throughout the country, but that's not what we saw.
We saw a very civil, socially distance, for all intents and purposes, protest, you know, at a moment when the country really was grappling with obviously the pandemic, but a reckoning of our, of racism and social injustice that we still don't necessarily understand. What will be the outcome of?
And you did have a chance to do some pieces that got us off of those two big stories, especially around music.
Yes, you know, our whole editorial schedule went out the window in March. We had a number of pieces already filmed and plans to do other things, but like everyone else in the world, we changed directions, but we did start to come back to these in the summertime as the virus started to be a little bit more understood.
Obviously, it wasn't contained, but in the New York area, particularly on the northeast, things seemed a little calmer. So we did start to venture out a little bit, producing a few music and arts pieces here and there, including with photographer Ethan Russell. He actually took many of the final photographs of the Beatles when they were still a band.
There was also a piece with John Densmore, the drummer from The Doors, who's written a book about creativity, and Chris Frantz, the co-founder and drummer from Talking Heads about his new book, Remain in Love.
I'd like to thank the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for giving this band a happy ending.
How was that? Was that a happy ending and why?
Well, we hadn't performed together or something like 18 years when we did that and– and so there was that whole period of like sort of wondering why? You know. Was it something I said?
What I really appreciate speaking with these people about is obviously they've had remarkable success in the artistic and musical world, but what's so fascinating is so many of these people, their success was short. It was a finite period when you look at their whole life and now as they look back, it really provides insight into how we live a full, balanced life and just to take this a little further, I think that's kind of what we're all going through.
Obviously, we're not all rock stars and musicians, but all of us in this past nine months have had to reevaluate everything that we know and everything that we do and how we balance our life and our profession and our existence and I think it's really kind of endearing to hear this from people that are of note and that we all kind of collectively celebrate.
But as France writes in his memoir, there has been one constant throughout this shared experience. Tina.
Tina has been wonderful to me and I hope I've been wonderful to her.
So Chris, you are sitting outside, real outside, not a virtual background. What's it been like doing all of this work remotely?
Well, I know I'm sick of my living room, and I assumed that viewers are sick of my living room. So I decided for this I would, I would sit outside.
Working remotely has been interesting because at first it was a novelty. We were able to kind of skip across the country very easily. We could interview people, multiple people in multiple locations throughout the day and almost kind of tickled by how easy this was. Now, nine months in, I'm a little tired of it. I miss the human to human contact and in-person conversation.
My living room is, for full disclosure is a total disaster now because my kids are in there and have been playing in the snow. So I'm trying to be quaint and sit outside, but really, it's a reflection of my own laziness at working from home.
All right, Chris Booker, thanks so much for all your stories and happy holidays.
Thanks. You, too.
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