Reports confirmed by Westword reveal that three on-air personalities at the sister stations have tested positive for the novel coronavirus. If all three cases can be traced to 100 Speer Boulevard, the shared headquarters of the outlets, the space could be declared an outbreak, since the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's most common benchmark for such a designation is two positive diagnoses. The CDPHE's weekly outbreaks update is scheduled to be published this afternoon, August 12.
We can find no evidence that either Fox31 or Channel 2 have reported on their staffers' infections to date. Granted, doing so in detail would be difficult, since disclosing workers' private health matters is restricted by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, shorthanded as HIPAA. In order to be identified, the infected individuals would have to publicly announce their condition, as did CNN's Chris Cuomo. Nonetheless, two insiders who contacted Westword used the word "cover-up" to characterize how the challenge has been handled to date by the stations.
The scoop on the situation was scored by FTVLive, a website that specializes in job movement and behind-the-scenes revelations tailored for members of the broadcast industry; the first post was published on August 10, the second on August 11. The latter contains a memo sent to staffers at 5:38 p.m. Sunday, August 9, in which Byron Grandy, vice president and general manager of the outlets, informed staffers that "we’ve recently had three employees test positive for COVID." FTVLive describes those individuals as anchors on Channel 2's morning program, Daybreak.
When asked about the accuracy of the FTVLive pieces, neither Grandy nor news director Brian Gregory offered any pushback, and Westword's sources vouch for their content.
Late on August 11, Grandy sent a statement to Westword regarding the tests, which excludes names and focuses entirely on practices and procedures. It reads:
Since the beginning of this pandemic, our top priority at FOX31 and Colorado’s Own, Channel 2 has been the safety and well-being of our staff. We have had safety protocols in place for months and we review and sharpen these protocols as developments warrant. Throughout the course of the pandemic, we have strictly adhered to local, state and CDC guidelines regarding risk assessment, testing, quarantines, contract tracing, and other related issues. Many of our staff work remotely, those in the office wear masks and social distance, and we have regular cleanings of common areas. We communicate with the staff on issues related to workplace safety and make adjustments to our policies and protocols based on their concerns.In Grandy's August 9 memo, he stressed that the infected "teammates are doing fine with mild or no symptoms at all" and added that "any and all areas in the building that could have been impacted have been deep cleaned and our cleaning protocols continue on a daily basis." But in an email we're told was forwarded to the newsroom, anchor/reporter Matt Mauro made it clear he wasn't entirely reassured.
"I — along with many others who worked in the station this weekend and in the studio where COVID-19 apparently spread amongst people — are very anxious and frustrated because of how the situation was handled and the lack of communication," one section of Mauro's message notes. "Could this e-mail have been sent out sooner? It’s very unnerving to learn about the cases through rumors; then, to go into the studio where someone who tested positive had worked just a day before. Could the Channel 2 studio have simply been shut down for the weekend and all shows anchored from the FOX studio? And again, could employees have been told they were going into a studio where COVID had spread? Many strongly feel they should have been notified."
FTVLive also obtained an email from news director Gregory in which he acknowledges that "I should have taken the Channel 2 studio offline" and mentions precautionary tests taken by a trio of Daybreak regulars.
How does the rank-and-file feel about management now? One phrase used in communication with Westword stands out: "beyond pissed."