NBC National Correspondent Kate Snow has been covering Ebola since July, when Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol returned to the United States with the virus. In the last few weeks, as the story has developed, Kate has crisscrossed the country to report for TODAY and NBC Nightly News. Here, she shares her morning routine from a recent day on the road.
It’s been insane — INSANE. This story is so unpredictable and changing so quickly that I think it’s really the first story I’ve covered where, because of social media and how fast information flows, it’s changing not just by the hour but by the minute.
I’ve been in the Central Time zone a lot — Dallas and Omaha for the last three weeks — so I’ve been staying up and working on my script for the TODAY show until 10 or 11 p.m. or sometimes midnight, and getting up just a few hours later. It’s been brutal. Four hours of sleep is a good night. My alarm goes off at 3:30 a.m. and I usually push snooze three times, at least.
By the time I’ve slept for three or four hours, often, everything has changed. [TODAY overnight producer] Pete Breen will call me really early — this morning, he woke me up at 3:30 a.m. right before my alarm went off with new developments, to say, “We’re going to need to re-top the piece.” So from 3:30 to 4:30 a.m. I was sitting in my pajamas on my computer, bleary-eyed, trying to rewrite the script. Then I’m grabbing my flashmic — which is the microphone you can record track on. I plug it into my computer and I download the file, which is my voice, and email that to New York. So I did all of that before 4:30 a.m.
Then I called my TODAY producer, Candace Kuo, and I’m like, I’m running really late, because we’re on the air at 6 a.m. local time. So at 4:30 a.m. I’m just jumping in the shower — and that’s really not enough time on a good day! In New York it takes me at least an hour to get hair blow-dried and makeup on, and on the road, you’re on your own, there’s no one blow drying my hair for me, there’s no makeup team — it’s me. This is embarrassing — Candace actually came to my room to help me, because I didn’t have enough time to get my shirt ironed and my hair done and my makeup done and make the live shot. She helped my pack up my stuff while I was putting on my eyeliner! And then we got there with 15 minutes to air, and then there were more changes to the script, up until 5 minutes to air.
There is no normal morning on this Ebola beat, but what has become normal are changes and having to get up super early to make the changes. While I'm drying my hair I have two phones in front of me on the counter — it’s craziness, sheer craziness, trying to make sure that everything is accurate and up to date and that I look OK to be on TV.
This story has moved exceptionally fast, I think more than any story I’ve ever covered — and I’ve covered presidential campaigns and natural disasters. But this one is a truly national story, where cases and potential cases and nurses are all over the country, and we’re getting information from Chicago one minute, Los Angeles the next minute, from Oakland, there’s a plane on the tarmac in Florida, one nurse is in Atlanta, the other nurse is in Bethesda, and meanwhile I’m in Omaha. There’s just a lot of information coming at us and we’re trying to vet it and make sure it’s as accurate and as up-to-date as we can without reporting things that aren’t going to turn out.
I try to do changes at my hotel room, and then I get in a rental car and drive to the live shot — which in both Texas and Omaha was pretty close by. I get in front of the camera, do the 7 a.m. EST hit for TODAY, then sometimes Morning Joe right after that, and usually a couple of affiliates, then an update for the 8 a.m. news. Then I get on phone calls with New York, check in with Nightly News, then the west coast edition of the TODAY show at 10 a.m. EST, and then record another update for 11 a.m. Many times in the past few weeks we’ve had to rewrite and do a whole new version because so much has changed by then. It’s been like being a hamster on a wheel — you’re just constantly trying to keep up. I feel like I’m on a treadmill all the time.
And then from there I move on to Nightly News — I start planning and gathering elements, and do it all over again.
Until last week, I also had a cast on my foot. In the middle of this craziness, I had a stress fracture and I was given an air cast — like a boot. At first I couldn’t even walk, but four weeks ago I started walking on it, so by the time Dallas happened three weeks ago I could at least walk, and then last week I got it off. So that was a little challenging, too.
The crew and the producers are great about running for food. I’ve eaten a lot of room service. In the mornings it’s usually a quick run — this morning we made it to Bruegger’s Bagels for five minutes and picked up some bagel sandwiches. I like to get an egg sandwich if I can get one, because protein is good for how tired I am. But if I can’t, I keep a supply of Clif bars in my bag and I’ll eat one of those in the morning if I don’t have time. The killer is that a few years ago I was told by my doctor that I can’t drink caffeine anymore. It totally stinks because I’ve been really tired. So I’ve been drinking, like, three cups of decaf. And I’ve broken the rule — don’t tell my doctor! A couple of times I’ve had caffeine because I’ve been so tired.
I wish I could tell you I take naps. There were a couple days in a row where I got two hours of sleep, where I could not function anymore, and I did take a nap for a few hours, but that only happened a couple of times. I’ve been going on adrenaline for a long time now. And there have been a couple of nights off — last weekend I got to go home, and I slept 10 hours.
I also work in phone calls every day to my two kids (Zack, 11, and Abby, 9). I try to call before 7:20 a.m. EST time because my son gets on the bus then, and then I try to call before 8:30 a.m. when my daughter goes to school, just to say hi, tell them to have a good day, tell them I love them. They’re hearing a lot about Ebola and they don’t really understand it, so we’ve spent a lot of time on phone calls talking about what it is and how you catch it and how mommy’s outside the hospital and not inside the hospital and not anywhere near people who are infectious. So they get it. They’re old enough to understand what I do, and that’s nice.
This is a fascinating story to cover. It’s professionally fascinating and changing at every turn and it’s complicated — I love covering stories like that. And if we can tell people what’s really going on with something that’s pretty scary, I think it’s a valuable service. I’m hopeful that life will calm down a little bit over the coming days, because if my life calms down, it means that the story is calming, and that people aren’t sick and in danger, and that’s a good thing.