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More than a thousand journalists from around the world have been put on notice after an attendee of a major computer-assisted reporting conference held over the weekend in New Orleans has tested presumptive positive for the novel coronavirus.
Several reporters from across McClatchy — including two from the Miami Herald — were among those who attended the 2020 NICAR conference, which was held March 5-8 at the New Orleans Marriott on Canal Street.
The Tampa Bay Times had two staffers at the conference. Both have chosen to work from home despite being asymptotic. A few others have also chosen to work from home.
Also affected are the Raleigh News & Observer, the Charlotte Observer, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Fresno Bee, the McClatchy Washington Bureau and the Lexington Herald-Leader’s capital bureau.
While the unidentified person’s test for COVID-19 has not yet been confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, IRE, the organization that hosts the conference, didn’t want to wait.
“IRE is notifying conference attendees now so that individuals can make their own decisions on how best to proceed,” the organization said in a news release, saying it has sought guidance from the CDC.
McClatchy employees who may have been exposed to the attendee are being instructed to self-quarantine and work from home for 14 days.
“It is important to know that we have no evidence that anyone in our newsroom has contracted the coronavirus,” said Kristin Roberts, vice president of news for McClatchy, the parent company of the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald and 28 other newsrooms across the country. “We are taking these steps out of a deep desire to adopt the most cautious approach and protect our employees.”
Miami Herald investigative reporter Nicholas Nehamas, who attended the conference, said he was not feeling any symptoms, but would be working from home.
“Obviously, it’s very concerning,” he said Tuesday night. “I am glad the company and IRE is taking it seriously and following the proper protocols. The last thing I would want to do is contribute to the spread of this virus in any way.”
IRE said the person infected, who traveled from within the United States, had mild symptoms and was expected to make a full recovery. The attendee, who was at the conference from Thursday, March 5, to Saturday afternoon, March 7, has self-quarantined and has been reaching out to anyone he or she had direct contact with.
IRE is reaching out to those who attended the pre-registered hands-on class with the attendee.
It wasn’t known whether the person contracted the virus before, during or after the conference, because symptoms can appear within two to 14 days of exposure.
As of Tuesday, there were more than 1,000 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, in the United States in at least 36 states. Thirty-one deaths across the country have been linked to the coronavirus.
The IRE passed on the CDC’s recommendation for conference attendees to let their health care provider know that they attended a large gathering with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The health care provider may conduct a test based on the person’s history and whether they have symptoms.
“The CDC also suggests checking with your local and state health officials and employer for guidance on whether you should work from home or take other measures to limit contact with others,” the IRE said. “If you develop a fever, cough or shortness of breath, please contact your health care provider immediately.”
Attendees who test positive are told to inform IRE so others can be notified.
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