Andy Ostmeyer

I’ve added two more stories to all the public service content on COVID-19 that the Globe has been providing for free online at joplinglobe.com.

Neither is about the virus, but each is relevant and worth a read.

The first is one of the longest stories a Globe staff writer ever put together. It will take 30 or so minutes to read. 

The second is a short one — an announcement that went online, followed by a longer story in the next morning’s paper. 

Both are about the tornado that hit us in 2011, and each makes clear just what Joplin’s medical community is capable of doing in an emergency.

I won’t go into all the details. You can read those for yourself. The response was, in a word, astounding.

Within 48 hours, Freeman treated 1,000 patients, many of them severely injured. Storm victims were showing up within minutes, one man with his intestines in his hands. One doctor described the injured humanity piling up in Freeman’s halls and lobby as a “tsunami.”

Within a week, St. John’s was up and running in a temporary hospital in a parking lot in the shadow of the wrecked hospital. This tent hospital had an emergency department, surgical suites, MRI and CT scan capabilities, a pharmacy and 60 inpatient beds. And two months later, they moved into a second temporary hospital — three times larger than the first. It is now the home of KCU.

Reading this may reassure you; it did me.

Like a lot of you, I’m not sure how bad this pandemic may get. I’ve been hunkering down, and I already miss going to restaurants; miss going to church; miss escaping to Dallas to see my first and only grandchild, missing her third birthday last week. I miss the ease and comfort of a way of life that I took for granted.

Also like a lot of you, I’m alarmed. Nor am I alone. I popped into a few stores throughout the week to survey the empty shelves. It’s easy to boil up in anger at toilet paper hoarders, but beneath that is an underlying current of fear.

The Washington Post last week ran on its website obituary pages as they appeared in Italian newspapers. Page upon page upon page, piling up. It reminded me of the stories the Globe did profiling each of the tornado’s victims.

And last week, the medical director of infection prevention and control at the University of Kansas Health System said that Kansas City would in two weeks see the kinds of COVID-19 numbers — deaths and infections — Seattle has been reporting.

“This isn’t a maybe,” the expert warned. “It is coming.”

That fear is real.

I offer those two stories about Joplin’s hospitals as an antidote in this time of anxiety, a reminder that we have experience to guide us. Joplin’s first responders, its doctors, nurses, hospital administrators and staffs stood up to the most severe event Joplin had ever known, though many of these people were themselves injured, and many did not know what had happened to their families or their homes.

I don’t doubt they’re up to the challenge now, and unlike with the tornado, we’ve had time to prepare.

There is one other lesson I learned from that tornado.

In the aftermath of the storm, this community also desperately needed something else — information. I remember how quickly our papers were snatched up from the racks, as quickly as we could deliver them. Those papers were filled with details about the things people needed to know to rebuild and stories of hope they needed to recover.

Information, like experience, is counterweight to the unease and fear bred by the unknown, and it helps people reclaim control.

A lot has changed in the last nine years, especially for newspapers. Much of the ad revenue that once carried newspapers has shifted to Google, Facebook, Craigslist and the like, resulting in smaller papers with smaller staffs. But these companies are not sending anybody out to cover your community on a good day, let alone during a pandemic. They’re not covering the actions of your school boards and city commissions, your hospitals, your legislators. They’re not giving you day-to-day information. They’re not telling your story.

That’s still our job. And given what’s at stake, we believe it is important to offer our local stories and many of our state and national stories about COVID-19 for free. Like I said, it’s a public service. Our public service. We began doing this a couple of weeks ago and will continue it as long as necessary.

Around the country, a lot of reporters and photographers have had to self-quarantine after possible exposure while covering stories. That’s not been the case here. Not yet. But many in the media are risking their health, maybe their lives, to provide information that is vital in a time of crisis. They’re working every bit as hard, every bit as long, as they did nine years ago. If experience is any guide, they’ll do it because they know how important it is.

That, too, is astounding.

Andy Ostmeyer is the editor of the Globe.

Andy Ostmeyer is the metro editor at the Globe. His email address is aostmeyer@joplinglobe.com.

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