Stephen Curry is an American hero.
On Thursday, the two-time NBA MVP provided a vital public service, bringing Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to the people, free from the context in which most people have seen him — that is, alongside Donald Trump during the president’s rambling and politicized coronavirus briefings.
Curry spent nearly a half-hour interviewing on Instagram Live, peaking above 51,000 viewers as it happened. The questions were fairly basic, but that’s exactly what’s needed right now, especially for an audience who may not be voracious news consumers. Just by getting the truth to a population susceptible to misinformation, the Golden State Warriors superstar provided a valuable public service.
What Fauci had to say was important, too. Knowing that COVID-19 has been portrayed as primarily a danger to the elderly, Fauci had a chance to give a clear explanation of why it’s so important for “people who are your age — young, healthy, vigorous” to be serious and vigilant about social distancing.
“It’s still a very, very small minority,” Fauci said. “But it doesn’t mean that young people like yourself should say, ‘I’m completely exempt from any risk of getting seriously ill.’ That’s the reason we talk about being careful, of physical distancing, doing the kind of social separation. It means not only for the elderly, but young people have to do it, too, for two reasons. One, you need to protect yourself because you’re not completely exempt from serious illness. Two, if you can become the vector or the carrier of the infection, where you inadvertently or innocently pass it on to your grandfather, your grandmother, or your uncle who’s on chemotherapy. That’s what we’ve got to be careful of.”
In case hearing it from the nation’s top infectious disease doctor isn’t enough, and for a lot of people, for whatever reason, it isn’t, Curry hammered the point home as smoothly as one of his long-range jumpers.
“That’s one of the reasons I wanted to have this Q&A and reach a different demographic, and people who are interested in the facts of what’s going on,” said Curry, who had flu-like symptoms a couple of weeks ago, just before the NBA shut down, got tested for coronavirus, and was negative. “You see the visuals of people at the beach, the parks, crazy public gatherings, not adhering to that social distancing kind of concept. The sense of urgency of what you just said, that can continue to spread the virus and affect people, unknowingly, in their own families … that might lead to some drastic and dire situations that they don’t want to find themselves or anyone in their family in.”
Knowing that the mission here is to save lives, it’s still reasonable to wonder, for community mental health and stability if nothing else, when life might get back to something resembling “normal.” For Curry, that also means resuming activity in the sports world, and he asked, smartly, how we’ll know sports are “not a threat to continue the spread of the virus.”
The answer wasn’t concrete because the number of cases of coronavirus in the United States continues to grow. Fauci noted that China is starting to ease some restrictions, but needs to be careful about “reintroducing the virus,” that Korea is ramping up activity again after successfully flattening the curve, but that the situation in Italy remains dire, as it does here.
As of Thursday afternoon, the New York Times was reporting the number of U.S. cases as over 75,000, with at least 1,069 deaths.
“We can start thinking about getting back to some degree of normality when the country as a whole has turned that corner and (you see the curve) start coming down,” Fauci said. “Then you can pinpoint cases much more easily than getting overwhelmed by cases, which is what’s going on in New York City.”
What’s going on in New York City is not what is going on everywhere in the country, and that also makes the question of getting “back to normal” a tricky one, especially for enterprises like professional sports that operate all across the country. If social distancing protocols are relaxed too soon, all that does is invite further catastrophe. And there’s the rub for Curry getting back to his regular job.
“Even if you lessen restrictions, everybody until this is over, should practice some degree of physical distancing,” Fauci said. “Not big crowds…. I’d like to get the people in the country to realize that we are dealing with a serious problem. It’s something that we’ve modified our lives.
“It’s not convenient to lock yourself in. It’s not convenient to not do things. It’s not convenient for you not to be playing basketball, but we’re going through a period of time now where we’ve got to, as a country, pull together, don’t get frightened, don’t get intimidated. Use the energy to be able to confront it and do the kinds of things that will put an end to it.”
By talking to Fauci and bringing his words to people without any tie to politics, that was just what Curry did.