States Shut Down, Congress Works On More Stimulus, Latest Coronavirus Research More states are encouraging citizens to stay at home to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Congress is working on its third bill to stimulate the economy and provide aid to Americans affected by COVID-19. New research points to "silent spreaders" fueling the coronavirus crisis.
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States Shut Down, Congress Works On More Stimulus, Latest Coronavirus Research

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States Shut Down, Congress Works On More Stimulus, Latest Coronavirus Research

States Shut Down, Congress Works On More Stimulus, Latest Coronavirus Research

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/819391334/819471315" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

In state after state, orders to stay home.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

California, New York, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, Connecticut all say people should stay indoors.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And that means businesses are closing down. I'm Lulu Garcia-Navarro.

SIMON: And I'm Scott Simon. And this is UP FIRST from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Our city in the absence of leadership from the federal government, frankly, is doing the following.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Issuing orders to stay at home. Leave only when necessary. These orders are affecting the country's biggest cities and one-fifth of the American people.

SIMON: Congress is trying to help. It's moving another package of assistance and economic stimulus.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And we're learning more about how the new coronavirus spreads.

SIMON: So please stay with us. We'll give you the news you need to start your weekend.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: New York has the most known coronavirus infections in the U.S., more than 8,000.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So the governor there put in place new restrictions on gatherings and asked New Yorkers to stay home starting tomorrow night. New York is one of a growing number of states trying to control the spread of the coronavirus by requiring residents to limit their contact with each other.

SIMON: NPR's Hansi Lo Wang joins us from New York City. Hansi, thanks for being with us.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Thank you for having me, Scott.

SIMON: And what does this new order seem to mean for New York?

WANG: Well, except for essential services, all businesses must be closed starting Sunday 8 p.m. Eastern. Exceptions are grocery stores, pharmacies, public transit. Those can stay open. But Governor Cuomo says this new requirement is not voluntary. And the state is ready to enforce it with civil fines if anyone tries to break it. And it's really the result of, you know, the state gradually building up to this point. And the governor says the point here is to save lives, lessen the pressure on the hospitals because they're expecting the number of COVID-19 cases to double the capacity of the state's hospitals and triple the capacity of the ICUs in the state.

SIMON: And we've been hearing a lot about equipment shortages at those hospitals. What's the situation now in New York?

WANG: Officials say they can essentially hold down the fort in New York for the next couple of weeks or so, but they're going to need reinforcements soon - ventilators, gloves, gowns, masks. They are going to possibly double the amount of beds that the state currently has. They need about 100,000 beds, they think. And, you know, I've seen a letter sent by New York State Nurses Association. And they've raised concerns that health care workers are, quote, "directly treating COVID patients." They're being told that they should use bandanas if there are no face masks. And the nurses say that if you move fast, maybe you can produce more equipment. But you cannot replace trained doctors and nurses who are susceptible and could be at risk for being infected themselves.

SIMON: And more states, of course, are following New York and California with the stay-at-home orders. How are other states handling the situation?

WANG: Well, it's interesting. President Trump said on Friday he's not considering a national lockdown, but you're seeing a state-by-state approach here. In Nevada, nonessential business is ordered to close through April 16. And the governor says you could face criminal charges if you don't follow that requirement. And in Illinois, Governor J. B. Pritzker put in an order that went into effect - goes into effect today at 5 p.m. Eastern - 5 p.m. local time. It lasts through April 7. Let's listen to what the governor said.

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J B PRITZKER: I don't come to this decision easily. I fully recognize that in some cases I am choosing between saving people's lives and saving people's livelihoods. But ultimately, you can't have a livelihood if you don't have your life. Of all the obligations that weigh on me as governor, this is the greatest.

WANG: Governor Pritzker says that law enforcement is going to try to monitor, but he admits the state of Illinois does not have enough resources to police everyone. So he's going to rely on people to be, quote, "good members of their communities and good citizens to keep each other safe."

SIMON: NPR's Hansi Lo Wang in New York, thanks so much.

WANG: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Ongoing high stakes negotiations this weekend on Capitol Hill.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And how high are those stakes? A trillion dollars aimed at stopping a coronavirus-fueled economic meltdown.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MITCH MCCONNELL: We need to go big. We need to minimize new complexity. And we need to move swiftly.

SIMON: That's Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell talking about the third congressional attempt to provide aid to Americans and stimulus to the U.S. economy.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales has the latest. Good morning.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Good morning, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So Senate Republicans and Democrats set a midnight deadline for themselves to reach a deal. What happened?

GRISALES: So surprise - they did not. They did negotiate late into the hours last night. And they said they were getting closer. This is a massive bill. They're looking at more than a trillion dollars to inject into the U.S. economy through different forms of aid to workers and businesses. However, they did say they would reconvene. They've been locked in a room negotiating for several hours last night. They'll do it again today. And they say they're getting to that point, perhaps, to reach a deal maybe as soon as today.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What is in the package as it stands? What are the sticking points? What are they fighting about?

GRISALES: So they're looking at some cash payments to Americans, how much of those will be to which income brackets. That's the details they're trying to sort out first. That's a major piece of this package. Another is looking at small business relief, perhaps loan guarantees for some of these hardest-hit industries, such as airlines. And they're also looking into other concerns, such as boosting the health care industry, trying to address the shortage in supplies and trying to get some of these items to health care workers as soon as possible.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Claudia, I'm curious. Nancy Pelosi is said to have negotiated last week's legislation directly with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. Is it a different story this time?

GRISALES: It is very different. It feels like we're almost moving backwards, especially when you look at the first two relief aids that Congress passed and were signed into law earlier this month. The House developed these packages and then moved over to the Senate. However, the House was on recess this week.

And so the Senate is in the driver's seat. Earlier this week, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer first came out with a proposal that was totaling about $750 billion really focused on workers, for example. And then Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made a negotiation run and said that they should be looking at a larger package that looked at these payments to Americans, as well as these bailout packages, if you will, to certain industries. So very different looking. That said, Pelosi was involved in negotiations. Yesterday, there were two phone calls yesterday with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Schumer and Pelosi. And so they remain in the talks. But we're going to see this come out of the Senate first in terms of how it's looking now.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, speaking of that, Senate leader Mitch McConnell is aiming for a vote on Monday. Is that still the plan?

GRISALES: So they are still sticking with that plan right now, even though they didn't hit that goal last night of reaching a deal in terms of some of the major pieces of this legislation. A GOP leadership aide told us last night that the bipartisan groups have made significant progress and will continue to work through last night and into the weekend. So it's very possible they could still reach this goal of putting this legislation on the Senate floor by Monday.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales.

Thank you very much.

GRISALES: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: And for more from Capitol Hill and the campaign trail when it's up and running again, be sure to check out the NPR Politics Podcast.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Now let's try to dig a little deeper into the latest science of the coronavirus.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How it spreads, what more we know about slowing that spread and why it seems to be so hard to stop.

SIMON: NPR's Geoff Brumfiel has been talking to scientists in the U.S. and in Europe this week. Geoff, thanks for being with us.

GEOFF BRUMFIEL, BYLINE: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: And what have you learned?

BRUMFIEL: Well, there's this growing body of evidence that this is really a stealth virus. It can spread before people show any major signs of illness. So I'm going to tell you about one data point that comes from the Netherlands. There was this virologist named Marion Koopmans. And she was trying to track the coronavirus. Like a lot of countries, initially, they were only tracking and testing people who had a history of travel recently. But then there were the number of cases that just sort of popped up. Nobody knew where they came from. So Koopmans and her team from Erasmus Medical Center went to the hospitals where these patients had turned up. And they started testing health care workers and found a lot of them were already infected.

MARION KOOPMANS: We see very rapid, very high levels of virus in the nose and in the throat.

BRUMFIEL: And those high levels of virus mean these health care workers could transmit the virus to others even though they weren't very sick at all. You combine this with some new epidemiological studies, also out this week, that showed silent spreaders are a factor, and this virus does have sort of a long latent time. And this could help explain why it seems to be spreading so quickly.

SIMON: So, Geoff, how do we stop it?

BRUMFIEL: Well, social distancing, just like you and I are doing right now - even from apparently healthy people - is one thing we have to start with. And that's why we're doing it. It's really the only way we have to sort of slow things down. But there's this other really important component we need. And that's testing. We need a lot of testing. I spoke to a few epidemiologists yesterday, and they're saying this isn't just about testing people who come to the hospital.

Here's Jeffrey Shaman at Columbia University.

JEFFREY SHAMAN: You should be testing as much as possible because that informs people to stay home. If they are themselves infected, and they're mild symptomatic, you tell them, you're staying home for the next 14 days or 21 days. And just do it.

BRUMFIEL: And you go, and you test their friends and their family. And if any of them are sick, you say, stay home, too. This is what South Korea did. And it really seems to have helped them slow down the spread of the virus.

SIMON: So can the U.S. do that?

BRUMFIEL: Well, our testing capacity just isn't there right now. There were early problems with the CDC's tests. And they were fixed, but there's still now a shortage of supplies and testing equipment. Shaman also warned me that we're so far behind, and there are already so many sick people in the country, it's going to be really, really hard to get that testing and tracing up and running, especially as the hospitals begin to fill, which - they're going to very soon.

SIMON: Geoff, this sounds pretty bleak. I'm wondering if there's any encouraging news.

BRUMFIEL: I mean, honestly, we're in for a really terrible month in the U.S. I think the epidemiologists feel like the trajectory is set. But, you know, if we work together, we can slow this disease down. We can start to turn the ship. And we have to social distance. It's economically painful. It's psychologically stressful, but we don't really have a choice. I mean, I'll give you kind of a bright spot, I guess, which is that Koopmans said she's been studying the virus's genetic code. And despite a lot of rumors about a second strand or mutations or it getting worse, that's not true. It appears that it's not getting any worse. So I guess, you know, it could be worse.

SIMON: NPR's Geoff Brumfiel. Thanks so much, Geoff.

BRUMFIEL: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And that's UP FIRST for Saturday, March 21. I'm Lulu Garcia-Navarro.

SIMON: And I'm Scott Simon. UP FIRST, of course, is back Monday with the news to start your week.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In the meantime, follow us on social media. We're @UpFirst on Twitter, and we are here for you through these very trying times. Tune in to your local public radio station for Weekend Edition.

SIMON: Both Saturday and Sunday. Find your NPR station at stations.npr.org. And before we let you go, a moment to remember a country music great, Kenny Rogers. He died at his home in Georgia last night at the age of 81.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Rogers was, of course, known for his silver beard and his husky voice. He had massive hits in the 1970s and the '80s, including this beloved classic, "The Gambler."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE GAMBLER")

KENNY ROGERS: (Singing) You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away and know when to run. You never count your money when you're sitting at the table. There'll be time enough for counting when the deal is done. You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away...

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