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TV station employees sent home over coronavirus concerns

(Image: WLS-TV/Disney ABC Television Group, Graphic: The Desk)

Four employees at Chicago’s ABC station were told to stay home this week after an interview at a hospital where a patient who tested positive for the coronavirus was treated.

The four employees of WLS-TV (Channel 7) weren’t identified by the station on Tuesday, but a station executive told local media journalist Robert Feder the staffers were sent home “out of an abundance of caution” following an interview at the Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights, Illinois.

The station said a news reporter and a photographer were told to stay home after interviewing an employee at a hospital where a patient diagnosed with the coronavirus, COVID-19, was treated. A second photographer who came into contact with the first later that day was also told to stay home; the spouse of the first photographer, who is also a station employee, was offered the opportunity to stay at home as well, though station management don’t believe she was exposed to the virus.

WLS-TV declined to name the workers who were sent home. A review of stories posted by the station did not turn up any names, and it is believed the station declined to air the interview with the hospital employee.

Three of the four staffers sent home have been told not to come to work until the results of a test on the hospital employee are released.

The incident at WLS is the second such involving a local news crew and the coronavirus in the last week.

In Seattle, an employee at Fox affiliate KCPQ (Channel 13) was quarantined after learning a family member worked at a health facility where patients were diagnosed with COVID-19.

A memo circulated to KCPQ employees did not name the staffer or their position. The station said it had hired a cleaning crew to disinfect various work spaces.

KCPQ was acquired by Fox Corporation from Nexstar Media Group on Monday. In late February, Nexstar’s chief executive, Perry Sook, told investors in a quarterly earnings conference call that the coronavirus outbreak would be good for stations owned by his media empire because people who were forced to self-quarantine or were otherwise ill would be stuck at home and thus likely to watch more television.

“If you’re quarantined in your home, and one of the few things you can do is watch television, I think advertisers see the benefit in that,” Sook said.

Sook said as more people caught the virus, “it could potentially benefit our business, because we’d be (their) primary source of entertainment.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article said KCPQ is owned by Nexstar Media Group. The station was formally acquired by Fox Corporation on Monday.

For accurate and reliable information about the coronavirus COVID-19, click or tap here to visit the World Health Organization’s website.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 11 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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