coronavirus

Blog: After Traveling to Europe, NBC 6’s Willard Shepard Is Working Remotely

NBC 6 Investigator Willard Shepard is recounting his personal journey that's also affecting many across the U.S.

NBCUniversal, Inc.

These are times that none of us expected, especially those of us who dedicate our professional lives to providing information to the residents of South Florida, and many times beyond. Bringing you the news every day, we see it all, including the tragic times that are life-changing events for the people we meet. None of us ever think that we will be on the news or be the subject of it.

However, I find myself writing my own story as one that is now the journey for so many already, and sadly, it appears more to come. 

I am working remotely Friday as a safety precaution for our NBC and Telemundo employees. I have no symptoms of COVID-19 and have been at my daily routine every morning with my boxing and fitness training, but over the last two weeks that training was done before the delights of the day —sightseeing Spain with my wife Tainna. It was an amazing time taking in all Madrid and the beachside towns along the Mediterranean have to offer. The food is great, and the history of the lands ruled by the Roman, Muslims and Christians is a wonderful blend of cultures found in few locations.  

We saw no panic there and few people with masks or runs on products like hand sanitizer.  All this while, each evening, we witnessed in Europe and the U.S. the growth of COVID-19.  My phone also rang multiple times with law enforcement personnel or others in South Florida reaching out to me about matters they believed the public should be aware of.  We returned to the U.S. several days before President Trump took action preventing foreign nationals from most European countries from coming to America. Spain saw an increase in cases during our final 48 hours there.  

The President’s decision has a huge impact on South Florida, especially this time of year. Annually, about 2 million passengers come to visit our beaches, and paradise from Spain, Germany, France, and Italy.  That number doesn’t include the amounts coming from the other European countries arriving on the 16 flights to MIA that come from over the Atlantic daily.  

My first day back on NBC 6 was set to be Friday, and in advance, I had started looking to see what our community was doing to try and offset this massive reduction in visitors to South Florida, especially with our valuable tourist season in full swing. I turned to Bill Talbert, the head of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau. Talbert is the man probably most responsible for creating jobs at hotels, restaurants and any place tourists go.  The proud Florida Gator travels the globe telling mayors, business leaders and anyone who will listen to why they should come to the best place on earth is his eyes — Miami-Dade County.  Through a phone call Friday morning, Talbert compared this to what happened after 9/11 and assured me that “we will get through this."

After all, he indicated, "Since we prepare for hurricanes we are the best place in the country in dealing with this situation.” One of the strategies moving forward is to reach out to areas who haven’t been affected by COVID-19 significantly, like Latin America. The hope is good deals offered there will result in visitors to fill in the losses due to the European ban.

I never actually saw Bill Talbert though.  My boss at NBC 6 called me early Friday saying since I had been in Spain, it was a good idea to work remotely even though I have, to this date, experienced no symptoms of the coronavirus. Our management at NBC and Telemundo are facing the same challenges you are if you are running a company in what is in uncharted territory.  The strain on us though is much different and our core product and responsibility is to provide information for families and businesses about this virus that is impacting daily lives.  We can’t simply pack up and go home and say we will get back to it when this pandemic passes.  This, for us, is like a hurricane — it's the time when we are needed the most.  

I am sure my boss took a deep breath before calling me. She is my boss and my friend and well aware of my dedication to anything I do, and my stubbornness about succeeding at that. A call to say that I basically had to contribute from the sidelines at this critical time was the right thing, but delivering that message is not always easy. The Air Force contacted me too saying that for now, don’t do any of our outreach events telling high school students about our scholarships, and to not fly high school and middle school cadets out over the Everglades either.  

Over the last few days, putting my lawyer's hat on, I would say to any of you out there who may have been told not to show up for work, or to modify how you do your job, that is to err on the side of caution. As my mother Lois would say, it’s better to be safe than sorry.  I would urge to you keep that in mind if you are being impacted financially by this situation to trust that the company where you work is coming up with new ways to remain productive without putting you or your co-workers at risk.

My wife hasn’t shown any signs of being sick either, but her real estate company canceled the trek she and her business partner had to Mexico even though it hasn’t really been affected by COVID-19.  She gave up speaking with almost 100 clients who wanted to hear about the why they should buy a condo in South Florida.  My son, Gianmarco, who’s in the Marine Corps Reserve, just completed his annual training and is back at his civilian job at a public relations firm which told him to work remotely too, and his college classes are now being done online, so we are in the same boat as many of you.  That includes Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, who is now running the city from his residence after he actually tested positive for the coronavirus.  

I always try to find the good in any situation, and while it may not seem like it now, maybe this pandemic, outside of the lessons being learned by our healthcare experts by the minute, might teach all of us to use technology in ways we haven’t thought of before and to catapult our companies to re-think how we can all work more effectively, efficiently and reduce transportation and other operational costs. For those of you working at home now, that could mean more opportunities for you — a silver lining from what today is the nightmare of COVID-19.

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