Hoda Kotb spent much of her career in the South, including working for WWL-TV news station in New Orleans from 1992 to 1998

By Jen Juneau
March 27, 2020 09:24 AM
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The coronavirus outbreak is hitting home for Hoda Kotb.

One day after Drew Brees and wife Brittany announced their donation of $5 million to the state of Louisiana for COVID-19 relief, the New Orleans Saints quarterback called into the Today show and chatted with Kotb (who worked at a news station in New Orleans for six years in the ’90s) about the impact the virus has had on the state.

“The state of Louisiana thrives on small businesses,” Brees, 41, said Friday of the initiative. “We’re a hospitality state, and so many people have been affected by this around the country but especially in New Orleans. So when Brittany and I think about one of New Orleans’ [residents’] basic needs, that is to make sure that they and their family are fed and they can continue to sustain. So that’s where we wanted to start.”

The athlete also spoke to Kotb about the similarities he sees in the current situation and what he witnessed coming to New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina. He advised people in the city to “Hang in there and maintain hope. Obviously, we’ve been through a lot of tough times together. Whether it’s hurricanes, oil spills, floods, and this is just another one of those bits of adversity that we’re going to come out better on the other side.”

At the end of their video call, Kotb, 55, broke down in tears and apologized to her audience after a few moments, during which co-anchor Savannah Guthrie sweetly told her, “I know where your heart is, my dear, I do,” and took over the broadcast for the next segment.

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Hoda Kotb (L) and Drew Brees
Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC Newswire/NBCUniversal/Getty
Hoda Kotb; Drew Brees (inset)

Kotb spent much of her career in the South, including working for the WWL-TV news station in New Orleans from 1992 to 1998. She regularly voices her support for the city and its football team on social media and on-air.

The New York Times reported this week that, according to one study, Louisiana was seeing the fastest coronavirus growth globally, with over 2,300 cases by Thursday afternoon. In New Orleans alone, that total was almost 1,000.

Dr. F. Brobson Lutz Jr., an infectious disease specialist, told the Times that these chart-topping numbers could be linked to Mardi Gras, New Orleans’ weeks-long celebration that ended on Feb. 25: “The greatest free party in the world was a perfect incubator at the perfect time.”

Shortly after cases in the state began to ramp up, schools closed and public gatherings in New Orleans were banned. The governor also announced all restaurant dining rooms and bars would close, similar to orders put in place in other states.

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In his announcement on social media Thursday — the same day it was revealed that the United States now has the most confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the world — Brees said, “Brittany and I are committing $5,000,000 to the State of Louisiana in 2020. The priority now is helping our communities get through this tough time.”

“After considerable research and conversations with local organizations, we will be mobilizing our partnerships with Second Harvest Food Bank, Ochsner Health Systems, Walk-Ons, Jimmy Johns, Smalls Sliders and Waitr to prepare and deliver over 10,000 meals per day throughout Louisiana for as long as it takes to children on meal programs, seniors, and families in need,” said Brees. “Let’s all do our part, maintain hope, and get through this together.”

Brees’ own coach, Sean Payton, was diagnosed with coronavirus but has since recovered. In his call-in to the Today show Friday, the quarterback gave an update on Payton, saying he was “maintaining good spirits” and has “an extremely positive attitude.”

“I think he also recognizes the danger in this and I know that he’s encouraged everyone to follow the orders and the guidelines that have been put in place — don’t put yourself or your family at any type of risk,” Brees added. “Let’s get over the hump with this thing and move on to bigger and better times.”

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments and visit our coronavirus hub.