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Lester Holt starts show for children about the coronavirus


NEW YORK — In the NBC “Nightly News” inaugural kids edition, Sadie of Morristown, New Jersey, posed the question that everyone wishes had an answer.

"When is coronavirus going to end? she said.

After a test run last week, NBC's Lester Holt on Tuesday is starting a twice-weekly newscast that he hopes can ease some of the mystery and worry for young people about a pandemic that's kept them out of school and many of their parents at home.

Posted Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, the program will run between six to 10 minutes and be available on NBC's YouTube channel and other digital platforms.

NBC's medical correspondent, Dr. John Torres, gamely took a whack at Sadie's question, saying experts hoped that within a couple of months, and with adherence to medical advice, she might be able to begin going outside and playing with friends again.

“It's healthy to have someone who will talk to them in as plain a language as possible and really walk them through what we know and what the coping techniques are for all of us,” Holt said.

One of the “Nightly News” producers, Bradd Jaffy, came up with the idea a couple of weeks ago and it was quickly put into motion, he said.

Besides the question-and-answer session with Torres, correspondent Kate Snow talked with an expert about tips for home schooling — yes, you should change out of your pyjamas, he suggested. A filmed story featured a teenager in Virginia who didn't have his driver's license but flew a small plane around the state distributing donated supplies to hospitals.

At the show's end, Holt said that “we hope you found this informative, answered some of your questions and made you smile.”

Tuesday's show features a report on a virtual zoo visit by Jackson Daly, who's Carson Daly's son, and has a story about a 14-year-old volunteer from Illinois who makes face shields for doctors and nurses.

Linda Ellerbee, who made a series of award-winning news programs for young people on Nickelodeon starting with the first Gulf War, applauded Holt's effort. She said it was the first time since she retired where she wished she was able to make one of her signature shows.

“I think it's hugely important because it's not a story these kids can avoid,” she said.

Children need to feel that they have a voice, and often have trouble digesting bits and pieces of information. “Kids need to know that it is OK to talk about things, it's OK to be afraid, it's OK to ask questions,” she said.

Ellerbee wasn't an expert in child psychology when first asked to do a program that tries to make sense of complex and disturbing news stories for young people. She followed her instincts. Similarly, Holt is taking cues from his experience as a father and grandparent. Holt said the show won’t address the grimmer aspects of the story, like the death toll.

The coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness.

The questions that some children sent in to Torres weren’t all that different from what some adults would ask. One wanted an explanation of what “flattening the curve” meant and another wondered whether coronavirus survived in the water and whether it would be safe to swim (Torres said the most important issue would be not getting too close to fellow swimmers.)

“The important thing that this program will provide is an affirmation to kids that it's OK to be a little freaked out by this, because all of us are, too,” he said. “It's really important that we convey, even if it's in a very subtle manner, that what you're feeling is completely normal.”

David Bauder, The Associated Press

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