News Brief: N.H. Primary, Coronavirus, Lockdown Drills New Hampshire's primary takes center stage. Health officials worry about the spread of the coronavirus outside China. And, two large teacher unions question the effectiveness of active shooter drills.
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News Brief: N.H. Primary, Coronavirus, Lockdown Drills

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News Brief: N.H. Primary, Coronavirus, Lockdown Drills

News Brief: N.H. Primary, Coronavirus, Lockdown Drills

News Brief: N.H. Primary, Coronavirus, Lockdown Drills

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/804750294/804750295" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

New Hampshire's primary takes center stage. Health officials worry about the spread of the coronavirus outside China. And, two large teacher unions question the effectiveness of active shooter drills.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We have reached the point where the New Hampshire primary is a round-the-clock affair.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Yeah, it really is. President Trump drew thousands of supporters to a rally last night. He is facing scant opposition in the Republican primary. One of his Democratic challengers, Bernie Sanders, drew thousands of supporters to his rally last night and hardly had the cheers die down when the voting began. In keeping with tradition, residents of some tiny New Hampshire towns voted at midnight.

INSKEEP: Democratic voters who plan to show up throughout this day are feeling the weight of responsibility. That's what some are telling NPR's Asma Khalid, who's in Manchester, N.H.

Asma, good morning.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What are you hearing?

KHALID: Well, in essence, I will say I am hearing that a lot of people are really anxious. They're really nervous. I was with Joe Biden at a closing rally last night. And one of the intro speakers asked the crowd - how many folks are nervous? - and dozens of hands shot up. I mean, that is the mood here right now.

I met one woman yesterday at an Amy Klobuchar rally. Her name was Kathleen McCloud (ph). And she told me that she just wants to find the person who she feels is electable. She worries that Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., whom she really likes, may not be electable because he's gay. She worries again that Amy Klobuchar, another candidate she likes, may not be electable because she's a woman. And she just wants to find the right person. Let's take a listen.

KATHLEEN MCCLOUD: I feel like a lot of people are feeling this way - like, this angst over finding the candidate that's going to be able to beat Trump.

KHALID: And so, Steve, that is sort of the backdrop here. And it all is in part because Donald Trump was here himself campaigning last night.

INSKEEP: It is remarkable to listen to people not only decide who they like but trying to be political analysts or political consultants in a way and figure out who they think the electorate will like. There's also this divide between more moderate or pragmatic candidates and more progressive candidates. There's this divide between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren on the more progressive or radical change side. Is that still a big divide?

KHALID: I would say that divide is something I heard a lot about throughout the summer, into the fall. The progressive movement was somewhat conflicted. You know, people would say that they liked both candidates. But I will say, at this point, I hear from many progressive leaders and groups have come out to endorse Bernie Sanders, that they feel like he's kind of the OG. He was the person, you know, originally calling for a lot of this progressive change - "Medicare for All" and whatnot. And really, what we're seeing is a very muddled path among some of the moderate candidates. That vote seems to be particularly fragmented.

INSKEEP: Does it seem to you, Asma, that New Hampshire voters are right to feel a lot of responsibility here, that their selection could influence who ends up being the nominee?

KHALID: I mean, I understand why they feel this way right now, and it's particularly acute because of the mayhem in the Iowa caucuses. And so they do feel an additional responsibility to pick the winner. The other thing at stake for them is that there's been an increasing amount of criticism on both Iowa and New Hampshire that they are not diverse - that they are just too white and they don't represent the Democratic electorate.

INSKEEP: And I guess we should note that the candidate field got a lot less diverse before people even reached the New Hampshire voting today.

KHALID: That's right.

INSKEEP: Asma, thank you very much.

KHALID: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Asma Khalid in New Hampshire, where voting has already begun in today's presidential primary.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: This next story begins with just a hint of extra anxiety.

GREENE: That's right - anxiety about the spread of the coronavirus. It has been spreading out of China, and that alone is troubling enough. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of the World Health Organization finds something else troubling - doctors can't always trace how the virus has spread.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS: In recent days, we have seen some concerning instances of onward transmission from people with no travel history to China.

GREENE: No travel history to China and, still, a few people contracted the virus in France and the U.K.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GHEBREYESUS: The detection of this small number of cases could be the spark that becomes a bigger fire. But for now, it's only a spark. Our objective remains containment.

GREENE: Health officials, of course, want to contain this disease. They also want to contain the fears in populations around the world.

INSKEEP: One place where that work is especially hard is Hong Kong, where we find NPR's Rebecca Hersher.

Hi, Rebecca.

REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: Hi, there.

INSKEEP: Does Hong Kong have its own version of that story that was just told there by the head of the WHO?

HERSHER: Yes. Officials here are definitely trying to quell fears and also contain the virus at the same time. There are only about 40 cases here so far. So on that front, it's pretty good. Right? But because it's not totally clear about how the virus spreads, new cases that happen here, they get a lot of attention. And they make people really scared. Like, there are these two people who live on different floors of the same apartment building here. They both got the virus. It's all over the papers.

And as that's been happening, people have been starting to speculate because we don't know how that happened. It could be something really simple, like a poorly timed sneeze. But on social media, even in the newspaper, people are wondering - was it the ventilation system in the building? Was it the plumbing? It's really indicative of how worried people are, how much they want clarity about exactly how the virus spreads and how hard it is when you don't have that clarity.

INSKEEP: Is there any evidence to suggest whether any of those theories you just mentioned could possibly be correct?

HERSHER: Well, the short answer is no. There is no specific evidence that, for example, the virus could be spreading through plumbing. One of the top epidemiologists at the University of Hong Kong went on the radio today and said, basically, do not panic about this.

But there's still a lot we don't know. We still don't know exactly how the disease is transmitted. It's difficult to track how the outbreak is evolving over time because epidemiologists don't have all the information about the cases that have been confirmed, like when people got sick exactly; if they got better, how long it took; if people die, when that happened relative to everything else. You need all that information to get a complete picture of how the virus is transmitted, how it affects people, how deadly it is. And it can be hard to get doctors and epidemiologists in China to talk on the record because the state has such a tight hold on the health system.

INSKEEP: Now, we were talking with a doctor in Wuhan, which is the center of this outbreak, here on NPR News. Dr. Lin Yang is her name, and she was saying that there is a problem with getting information out of China's authoritarian government. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

LIN YANG: At the beginning of this outbreak, if the scientists can get more information from these cases, we probably could have understood this outbreak better.

INSKEEP: Has a tight hold on information slowed the authorities' possible response?

HERSHER: Yeah. I mean, I think it's a really good point. And it means that because there's not a ton of information, scientists are playing catch-up in a way. The longer it takes to study the outbreak to really understand it, the more work you make for public health officials who are just trying to reassure people, keep them calm - because nothing stokes fear quite like not knowing.

INSKEEP: Rebecca, thanks for telling us what we do know.

HERSHER: Thanks.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Rebecca Hersher in Hong Kong.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: Here in the United States, active shooter drills have become common in schools.

GREENE: That's right. But today the country's two biggest teachers unions are issuing a new recommendation. They want public schools to rethink these simulations. About 95% of American public schools run some form of these drills, but concern is growing about how they might traumatize children.

INSKEEP: NPR's education correspondent Anya Kamenetz joins us now. Good morning.

ANYA KAMENETZ, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What are the recommendations?

KAMENETZ: So the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association - those are the two big teacher unions - have teamed up with the gun advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety. And together, they're releasing a report today where they say they do not recommend that children participate in these drills.

And if schools do choose to use these drills, they say they should never be unannounced, which is something that's been happening, and they should not be overly realistic. The report wants schools to focus on prevention measures. One best practice is threat assessment, where you kind of surround a troubled kid with services, including mental health services and referrals.

INSKEEP: I'm just thinking this through. I guess we're being told here that these drills themselves can be traumatizing, whether kids ever go through a shooting or not. What is the experience like for many kids?

KAMENETZ: Well, I've talked to students who say they can be terrifying, especially when they're not fully announced. You know, they're sometimes called lockdowns, so classroom doors are locked. Sometimes students practice hiding or running away from, even fighting back against an attacker. In one documented case in Indiana, teachers were shot and injured with pellet guns during one of these drills.

I talked to a fourth-grade teacher, Abbey Clements, and she was actually a teacher in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School, when a shooter walked in and killed mostly first-graders - about 26 people. And she still teaches today in Newtown, Conn. And she told me that her district doesn't use these drills because they want to avoid scaring students. This is Abbey.

ABBEY CLEMENTS: If that is good enough for Newtown, shouldn't that be good enough for all districts across the country?

INSKEEP: Well, I do have to ask - clearly, some people think that these drills are useful because they've become so widespread. Is anyone still defending them?

KAMENETZ: Sure. I mean, again, 95% of schools are doing them. I think school shootings are so rare that we really don't have much empirical evidence to support any kind of security measure. But in the meantime, you know, this giant school security industry has sprung up, really, in the years especially since Newtown. It's reportedly worth almost $3 billion.

And I talked to Guy Grace. He's the chairman of the Partner Alliance for Safer Schools, which is a educator-industry partnership. And he insisted to me that student participation in twice-a-year lockdown drills is key and central to violence preparedness. But Grace actually agreed with the teacher unions that simulations of violence aren't a good idea and, also, that drills should never be unannounced. So there's some agreement there.

INSKEEP: I'm just thinking this through. You have teachers who want to do something, school administrators who want to do something. They hire consultants who aren't being paid to tell you to do nothing, and they end up with these drills. Is that what seems to be happening here?

KAMENETZ: That's exactly right. And you have, you know, kindergartners who are terrified to go to the bathroom at school and people that have nightmares, children that have trauma in their lives - and they go to school. School is supposed to be safe and welcoming, and this is their experience.

INSKEEP: Anya, thanks for the insight.

KAMENETZ: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Anya Kamenetz.

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