The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump’s confusing speech. Tom Hanks. The NBA: How coronavirus gave us 2020’s wildest hour yet.

Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin was onstage with host Nick Cannon during “The Masked Singer” on Wednesday night. Then things got wild. (Michael Becker/FOX)

Onstage in a furry cotton candy-colored bear suit, former vice presidential candidate and Alaska governor Sarah Palin high-kicked and fist-pumped as she rapped: “I like big butts and I cannot lie.”

The surreal scene capped off an episode of “The Masked Singer,” where celebrities dress in disguise and perform musical numbers. As the last notes of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” faded just before 9 p.m. Wednesday, Fox cut away from Palin to a breaking-news bulletin introducing President Trump’s Oval Office coronavirus address.

Welcome to the wildest news hour of the year — so far. By the time the clock struck 10 p.m. on the East Coast, the world would learn that Trump had restricted most travel from Europe for 30 days, actor Tom Hanks had been diagnosed with covid-19 and the NBA had suspended its season indefinitely.

The pace of information moved so fast that people could barely keep up and many were left confused. Push alerts flashed on cellphone screens. News chyrons changed at a furious clip.

To sort it all out, rewind the clock to just before 8:40 p.m. Eastern time Wednesday and tune in to footage from the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, where the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder were set to face off.

“The game tonight has been postponed,” the Thunder’s public address announcer said, after team officials informed the league that Jazz player Rudy Gobert tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Someone in the crowd let out an eerie scream. Another fan shouted “Why?!” Many booed.

“You’re all safe,” he repeatedly assured the restless crowd. Gobert wasn’t in the arena, The Washington Post reported.

President Trump announced travel from Europe will be suspended starting on March 13, speaking in the Oval Office. (Video: The Washington Post)

Twenty minutes later, as Palin’s fever dreamlike performance was ending, Trump was beginning his prime-time address on the coronavirus outbreak in the United States. Repeating what some have called xenophobic and racist tropes used by some Republicans and right-leaning media, Trump called the disease a “foreign virus” that “started in China and is now spreading throughout the world.”

Sign up for our Coronavirus Updates newsletter to track the outbreak. All stories linked within the newsletter are free to access.

“No nation is more prepared or more resilient than the United States,” the president said.

Presumably, he meant to reassure, but he left a trail of perplexity. Immediately after Trump’s speech, clarifications and corrections followed.

He had said in the speech that his travel prohibitions “will not only apply to the tremendous amount of trade and cargo but various other things. … Anything coming from Europe to the United States is what we are discussing.” Then, he clarified in a tweet that, no, he wasn’t really suspending trade from Europe. In fact, “trade will in no way be affected,” he tweeted.

Nor did his travel suspension apply to American citizens or legal permanent residents and their families, tweeted Ken Cuccinelli, acting deputy secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, by way of clarification. And the health insurance industry was not promising to “waive all co-payments for coronavirus treatments” as Trump said in his speech. A spokeswoman for American Hospital Insurance Plans told Politico the waiver applied only to testing, not treatment.

By then, U.S. stock futures were tumbling by nearly 4 percent in reaction to Trump’s speech.

“Mr. Trump’s address was meant to calm the waters,” wrote Edward Luce of the Financial Times. “By the time he finished they were considerably rougher. … Mr. Trump has elevated the uncertainty risk. To put it bluntly, no one has much clue what he will do next."

Fifteen minutes after Trump’s speech began, a bombshell announcement nearly eclipsed his muddled address: Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, had been diagnosed with covid-19.

“We felt a bit tired, like we had colds, and some body aches,” Hanks wrote in a note he posted to social media. “To play things right, as is needed in the world right now, we were tested for the Coronavirus, and were found to be positive.”

Immediately, the movie star’s fans, who span nearly all walks of life, responded with horror and concern online. Hanks was the first household name to publicly announce a positive coronavirus test.

Actor Tom Hanks said March 11 that he and his wife, Rita Wilson, have both tested positive for the novel coronavirus in Australia. (Video: Reuters)

Before 9:40 p.m., yet another breaking news alert popped up. The NBA announced its season would be suspended indefinitely, an unprecedented decision for a league with 259 regular season games left, accounting for about 21 percent of its schedule. Meanwhile, the players for the Jazz and Thunder were being tested for the virus after Gobert’s positive results.

The chaos had many people yearning for simpler times, like 2019.

By the end of the hour, reporters covering news, sports and entertainment had collectively written hundreds of stories about the breakneck news cycle. And readers were exhausted.

“What I wouldn’t give for a dull moment,” late-night host Stephen Colbert tweeted.