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It was 4:40 Sunday afternoon, and a handful of kids were about to start a pickup game on an outdoor basketball goal at DuPont Elementary on Hixson Pike.

Asked if he was bummed about being out of school until at least the end of March due to the coronavirus outbreak leading Hamilton County Schools to close, 13-year-old Mikal Payeton, a seventh grade point guard for Hixson Middle, smiled.

"No, I'm happy," he said. "Now I just get to play the game more."

Nearby stood his older brother Eric, who was a manager on the Tyner Academy basketball team that lost a 54-52 heartbreaker in the state sectional to York Institute last week.

Though he'll also be off school property for at least the next couple of weeks, he's not looking forward to the break.

"Now we've got to do our schoolwork in Google Classroom from home," the 15-year-old ninth grader said. "I think that's going to be harder than regular school."

Adjusting to the threat and reality of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, is going to be harder on all of us than we ever imagined a week ago. Schools are pretty much shut down nationwide, including throughout the Chattanooga area. Grocery store shelves are starting to look like those in Florida on the eve of a fast-approaching hurricane. There is even serious talk of restaurants and stores closing. Walmart is already cutting back its hours throughout the country, along with other major retail chains.

And on Sunday, as he made appearances on all the morning talk shows, infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci argued he would like to see the government consider a 14-day shutdown to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

He also warned that young people shouldn't consider themselves safe from the ravages of the disease, which had killed close to 6,000 worldwide as of Sunday evening and could kill as many as 1.7 million in this country alone if it's not handled properly.

"Younger people should be concerned for two reasons," Fauci told CNN's "State of the Union." "You are not immune or safe from getting seriously ill. There are people that are young who are going to wind up getting seriously ill."

Those young people could also pass it on to those who are much more vulnerable.

"You can bring it to a person, who can bring it to a person, who can bring it to your grandmother or grandfather or elderly relative," Fauci said. "That's why everyone's got to take this seriously — even the young."

To underscore how serious this is for the elderly or those with compromised health, the American Health Care Association's Mark Parkinson said over the weekend, "The grim reality is that, for the elderly, COVID-19 is almost a perfect killing machine."

That's at least one of the reasons why Greta Hayes, the longtime director of recreation for the city of Chattanooga, made it clear Sunday evening that none of the city's indoor facilities would be open for the foreseeable future.

"We're closed until further notice," she said. "We want the public to adhere to Mayor (Andy) Berke's plea for social distancing and no large group gatherings. This is a serious health issue that is changing by the minute. After hearing for days that young people were probably safe, there are at least four cases of middle schoolers coming down with it nationwide. No one's immune."

That said, the city's outdoor playgrounds and ballfields will remain open other than the softball fields at Warner Park, which will be locked.

None of this is easy. As Mayor Berke noted on Friday: "Nothing slows the spread of COVID-19 as effectively as social distancing, as frustrating as it may be. While these decisions are not made easily, and we know how frustrating they will be for many citizens, we have a responsibility to act in the best interests of everyone's health and safety."

As the Payeton brothers prepared for their first pickup game of the afternoon, they sounded like sports fans everywhere who are coming to grips with the abrupt end of college basketball, the postponement, at least for the next two weeks, of the NBA season, and the absence of every other major sport and event, including the Masters, that has been canceled or delayed.

Both Mikal and Eric count Duke as their favorite college team, but while Mikal believed the Blue Devils might "possibly" have won the NCAA tournament if it had been played, Eric was far more certain.

"Definitely," he said.

And while Mikal counts high-scoring Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young as his favorite pro player, Eric sides with the Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry.

As he took a couple of warmup shots Sunday, Eric Payeton was asked if he was upset about how much the coronavirus has altered sports and everything else in this country over the past few days.

"Not really," he said with a shrug. "That's life."

Or at least the life we'll be leading for the next two or three weeks at the very least.

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Mark Wiedmer

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.

 

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