News Brief: Trump Threatens Federal Crackdown, COVID-19, Florida Schools President Trump threatens to deploy federal law enforcement to more U.S. cities. The race for COVID-19 vaccines shows promise. And, Florida teachers sue to stop school reopenings amid pandemic.
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News Brief: Trump Threatens Federal Crackdown, COVID-19, Florida Schools

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News Brief: Trump Threatens Federal Crackdown, COVID-19, Florida Schools

News Brief: Trump Threatens Federal Crackdown, COVID-19, Florida Schools

News Brief: Trump Threatens Federal Crackdown, COVID-19, Florida Schools

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/893406570/893406571" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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President Trump threatens to deploy federal law enforcement to more U.S. cities. The race for COVID-19 vaccines shows promise. And, Florida teachers sue to stop school reopenings amid pandemic.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

After camouflaged federal agents arrested protesters on the streets of Portland, Ore., President Trump now says he may be sending more federal agents to other U.S. cities.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This is what we heard from the president yesterday at the White House.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, I'm going to do something - that, I can tell you - because we're not going to - New York and Chicago and Philadelphia and Detroit and Baltimore and all of these - Oakland is a mess. We're not going to let this happen in our country - all run by liberal Democrats.

GREENE: Now, President Trump has made empty promises before, but we should say the Chicago Tribune is reporting that plans are already in the works for Chicago.

MARTIN: Gregory Pratt is one of the reporters who broke the story for the Tribune, and he joins us now. Good morning, Gregory.

GREGORY PRATT: Good morning.

MARTIN: What have you learned about these plans?

PRATT: So there's a lot in the air. But what we do know is that the administration has planned to send roughly 150 Homeland Security investigators, which is a special wing of ICE that doesn't do immigration but works on serious investigations into things like human trafficking. And they're planning to send about 150 of them into Chicago where I think they'll be working for the Justice Department. And their mission is going to be to, quote-unquote, "combat violence." But it's not clear what that means exactly.

President Trump and his administration have been vague about it. And even after we broke the story that they were going to send these agents, the mayor's office said the feds hadn't shared any definitive plans with the city which has raised some concerns, especially after what you saw out of Portland where federal agents reportedly snatched protesters off the streets and threw them into unmarked vehicles without explaining why they were being detained.

MARTIN: Right. It's so interesting, too, that you say that the chain of command is unclear - that no one's really sure who they're reporting to, if it's the Justice Department or someone else. I mean, can you talk, Gregory, about how this fits into President Trump's larger criticisms of Chicago - because that's a city that he has targeted in his rhetoric for many years, right?

PRATT: Yeah. And you know, Mayor Lightfoot often says that he's been using Chicago as a punching bag from the beginning of his administration. In his first week, Trump tweeted, send in the feds and caused a minor panic. But until now, he hasn't done it yet. So right now what's different and what's hard to ignore is that we have an election in November. Trump is down in the polls, and he is crafting a law-and-order message, particularly during the national protests and civil unrests over the police killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Now that said, crime is up in Chicago. Shootings and homicides are up substantially, so he's not wrong about that even though people here express a lot of skepticism that he actually cares about the problem.

MARTIN: So tell us more about what local leaders are saying, in particular the mayor, Lori Lightfoot.

PRATT: Well, Mayor Lightfoot yesterday, before we broke our story, said she has general concerns about the possibility of Trump sending feds to Chicago based on what had happened in Portland. And here's what she said.

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LORI LIGHTFOOT: We don't need federal agents without any insignia taking people off the streets and holding them, I think, unlawfully.

PRATT: So she also said that we won't have tyranny here on the streets of Chicago. So there's some real pushback.

MARTIN: All right. We will keep following it. Thank you for your reporting. Gregory Pratt with the Chicago Tribune.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: OK. The race for a coronavirus vaccine is on. Two different groups of scientists say they might be getting closer to an answer.

GREENE: Right. A research team in the U.K. is starting to lay the groundwork for a major U.S. trial of their vaccine while another team also has a formula that is looking promising. But we should make clear that questions remain here.

MARTIN: NPR science correspondent Richard Harris is with us this morning. Hi, Richard.

RICHARD HARRIS, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: What do we know about these vaccines so far?

HARRIS: Well, the two that I'm talking about today includes one that's being developed by scientists in Wuhan, China, and that study that they're reporting involved more than 500 volunteers. The second is out of the University of Oxford, and that one recruited more than a thousand people for the early phase of testing, which is what they're reporting on now in the medical journal The Lancet. I talked to Naor Bar-Zeev at Johns Hopkins University, who had a chance to review these two reports in detail.

NAOR BAR-ZEEV: So far, everything we've seen has been encouraging. And most importantly of all, there's not been any severe - any serious, I should say adverse events.

HARRIS: Some people did get a kind of - the kind of reaction you get from a vaccine like a fever, a fatigue, a little bit of pain at the site of the injection. But Bar-Zeev says those are to be expected.

MARTIN: So I mean, do we know if they actually work?

HARRIS: Well, we don't know anything definitively yet. One hopeful sign is that most people who got the experimental injections developed antibodies against the coronavirus. And those antibodies actually neutralized the virus at least in the lab. Bar-Zeev was also encouraged to see that people's immune systems revved up to produce custom cells called T-cells that targeted the coronavirus.

BAR-ZEEV: And that may turn out to be really critically important. We don't quite know enough really about coronavirus immunity. But it may turn out that that's a really important part of protection against the coronavirus, particularly in terms of the longevity of the immunoresponse.

HARRIS: It's really important to have an immune response that will last for a reasonable period of time - say, at least a year. And that is not assured because some people do have a fleeting immune response to related coronavirus. That means they could get sick again and the vaccine really wouldn't stick.

MARTIN: So as you suggested at the top, there are lots of other vaccines in the works right now. What makes these two different?

HARRIS: Well, I would say that they are ahead of the pack, at least at the moment. They've been tested on a lot more people than, say, the Moderna vaccine, which is a leading candidate here in the United States. But you know, this is new scientific territory, so the worry is any potential vaccine candidate could falter along the way.

I talked to Adrian Hill at the University of Oxford and asked him, hypothetically, what could go wrong with the vaccine that his team is developing? And he said he's worried that it might not stimulate a strong enough immune reaction even though the results in the lab look good. And he also worries about the potential snags in mass production of the vaccine. And we won't know if that works until it's been really run out and tried in tens of thousands of people who are at risk for getting infected to see if it lowers their risk.

But one thing that the people at Oxford are doing is they've teamed up with this drug company AstraZeneca to test this out in a large scale, like 30,000 people here in the United States.

MARTIN: Do we know the timeline for that? I mean, what are the next steps here?

HARRIS: He says they could have results in October or maybe even earlier. And you know, manufacturers are already thinking ahead about how to ramp up production to make two billions of this vaccine available within a year.

ADRIAN HILL: Two billion doses is an aspiration. I hope we can do that. We're not at all sure we can. But even if we succeeded with AstraZeneca in doing that, there are still billions of people who would be left without a vaccine over the next few years.

HARRIS: So it's good that there are a lot of companies out there pressing ahead, using a variety of strategies to try to produce one of these vaccines.

MARTIN: Right - cast a wide net. OK. NPR's Richard Harris. Thanks, Richard.

HARRIS: Anytime.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Florida teachers are headed to court.

GREENE: That's right. They are suing Governor Ron DeSantis, who has ordered them to return to classrooms full time. The teachers and the two major unions that are supporting them say that forcing schools to reopen in a pandemic is not only reckless but also against the state constitution in Florida. State officials say they have a mandate to educate children.

MARTIN: All right. Let's talk about this with NPR education correspondent Cory Turner. Cory - so teachers there saying it's too dangerous to go back into the classroom. Is there really no flexibility for those kinds of concerns in Florida?

CORY TURNER, BYLINE: There is some flexibility in this order but not nearly enough, teachers say. Rachel, the fight started about two weeks ago when the state issued this executive order which basically requires schools to offer in-person instruction five days a week for any family that wants to send their child to school. The state argues that, you know, getting kids back into classrooms is best for kids, especially vulnerable students, you know, with disabilities, kids who are food insecure; maybe they're living with essential workers. Here's Governor DeSantis yesterday.

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RON DESANTIS: We don't want folks to fall behind. And we really, really want to focus on the best interests of our students and giving the parents the maximum amount of choices.

TURNER: Now, there is some room in the order for the input of public health officials. But plaintiffs are clearly worried that schools are going to be forced to reopen before it's safe and without the resources they're going to need to protect teachers and students.

MARTIN: So Cory, walk through exactly what the plaintiffs are saying. What are their concerns?

TURNER: Well, one of the plaintiffs is a teacher who contracted COVID-19 back in March. She spent eight weeks in the hospital. And she and the other plaintiffs argue that the Florida constitution requires that kids receive a safe education. And you know, if you look at infection rates in Florida right now, they say it's just not safe. Florida is leading the nation in new daily cases per 100,000 people. I just checked earlier this morning - it's not even close between first and second place. Here's Randi Weingarten. She's the head of the American Federation of Teachers, which backed the lawsuit.

RANDI WEINGARTEN: None of the countries in the developed world that opened up opened up with this kind of surge. It's dangerous to kids. It's dangerous to teachers.

MARTIN: But if we focus in on the kids for a second, Cory, I mean, isn't there new data suggesting that at least really young kids, they don't transmit the virus as often as older kids?

TURNER: Yeah. Young kids, also, we're fairly certain that they're not getting seriously sick in general. But there is new research out of South Korea that suggests by the age of 10, they do transmit it as much as, if not more than, adults. You know, the governor and his administration are right - being out of school is hurting a lot of kids. But it's not clear that it's safe for school to reopen in this context.

MARTIN: Yeah. So I mean, let's talk about the impact. Right? I mean, I imagine this is going to affect decisions across the country for school districts.

TURNER: I mean, it's worth noting that the Trump administration has really held up this order as a shining example of what needs to happen. But honestly, in the last two weeks since it happened, infection rates have risen so much, we've seen Texas, the other state with one of these big mandates - they actually backpedaled. And the state told districts they could start online only for two months if necessary. And even in Florida, we're seeing some big districts say we're not opening right now.

MARTIN: NPR's Cory Turner. We appreciate it.

TURNER: You're welcome.

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