Answering Your Coronavirus Questions: COVID-19 Treatment, Survivors And Travel On this broadcast of The National Conversation, we'll answer your questions about treatment and traveling in the future. We'll also hear from some people who have recovered from the disease.
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Answering Your Coronavirus Questions: COVID-19 Treatment, Survivors And Travel

Answering Your Coronavirus Questions: COVID-19 Treatment, Survivors And Travel

Answering Your Coronavirus Questions: COVID-19 Treatment, Survivors And Travel

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TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS: We are learning from many countries about what works, and we are sharing that information with the world.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The WHO responded to President Trump after the U.S. stopped funding the organization. It is Wednesday, April 15. And this is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

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MARTIN: I'm Michel Martin. Coming up, we're answering your questions about the economy and COVID-19.

BOB: Is there a government stimulus program aimed at helping the tens of thousands of small self-employed businesses in the United States?

MARTIN: And a doctor answers questions about treatment for those with the virus.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Why can't we use people's CPAP machines as ventilators?

MARTIN: If you have questions about the virus, we want to help. Go to npr.org/nationalconversation. Or on social media, use the hashtag #nprconversation That's all coming up. But first, this news.

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MARTIN: This is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michel Martin. Each night, we are here to answer your questions.

LORELEI: This is Lorelei (ph) from Anchorage, Alaska.

DAVID RUSSELL: My name is David Russell (ph).

MIKE VON DER PORTEN: This is Mike Von Der Porten (ph) in Santa Rosa, Calif.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: We have tested positive and recovered from COVID-19.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: And my question is...

RUSSELL: My question is...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: My question is will a DNR order preclude a patient from being put on a ventilator?

RUSSELL: ...Is there currently a way to test for antibodies to the COVID-19-causing virus?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: What is the biological explanation for why some people are silent carriers?

SANAYO: How can I help as someone who has recovered from COVID?

PHILIPPA: Any advice?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Thank you.

MARTIN: NPR journalists and outside experts are on hand to offer solid facts. We'll tell you what we know and to correct some of the misinformation that's floating around. And when we don't know something, we'll tell you that, too. Please send us your questions about health issues, the economy or even just how to adjust to this new reality we're all dealing with at npr.org/nationalconversation. On Twitter, use the hashtag #nprconversation But each night, we begin by answering the question, what happened today? President Trump started his daily briefing with some positive news.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The data suggests that nationwide, we have passed the peak on new cases. Hopefully that will continue and we will continue to make great progress.

MARTIN: But his announcement to halt funding for the World Health Organization caused widespread backlash. Trump accused the agency of covering up the spread of COVID-19. The director-general of the WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, responded this way.

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TEDROS: We are learning from many countries about what works, and we are sharing that information with the world.

MARTIN: As cases rise in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser is now requiring residents to wear masks when they go out. And she extended the stay-at-home order until May 15.

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MURIEL BOWSER: We aim to protect D.C. residents and save lives, and that means doing everything we can to protect our most vulnerable residents.

MARTIN: In New York, the death toll is now 11,000. Officials revised the number to include people who died at home but were never tested for the virus. Britain said their official death toll may be 10% higher for the same reason.

Retail sales plummeted in March by 8.9%. Car sales dropped by a quarter. One spot that was up - grocery sales.

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MARTIN: The Dow closed down for the day nearly 500 points. And with all of that going on, it's not surprising that you have a lot of questions about the economy and federal relief efforts, so joining us to give us the latest information on those topics is NPR's chief economics correspondent Scott Horsley. Scott, good to hear from you again.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Michel.

MARTIN: So before we dive into the questions, we just mentioned that the Dow is down, or it was down, and retail sales took a hit. Now, these are two indicators that the economy is suffering. And some people might say, well, you know, I don't have stocks. And some people might say, well, I'm not shopping because I'm at home. I don't need anything. But can you explain briefly how this affects all of us?

HORSLEY: Sure. Well, the Dow opened down and stayed in the red pretty much all day. It finished, as you mentioned, about - down about 1.8%. I think investors were maybe a little spooked by that steep drop in retail sales. It was the worst one-month decline on record. And, remember; retail sales make up about two-thirds of the U.S. economy.

Now, the drop in sales is not really surprising when you think about all the stores that shut their doors last month because they were trying to slow the spread of the pandemic. Not many people were out buying clothes or cars or furniture in the second half of March. We are likely to see a further decline in retail sales in April because most stores are closed for the full month now.

But online sales were up. That's keeping those delivery drivers busy. And, as you mentioned, grocery sales were way up because, of course, supermarkets are open, and people are now eating most of their meals at home.

MARTIN: So let's get to those questions. First, we have James (ph) in Alameda, Calif.

JAMES: It confuses me that unemployment is at an all-time high since the 1930s and getting worse, yet the Dow Jones Industrial Average has been going up all week. When might we expect the economy to actually tank, and what sectors will be most impacted?

MARTIN: So, Scott, what about that? As we said, the Dow fell today. But, in general, Scott, what about James' question?

HORSLEY: It is a bit of a head-scratcher. You know, last week, the stock market had its best week since 1974, even as millions more people were filing initial unemployment claims. Clearly, there is a kind of a disconnect right now between what's happening in the stock market and what we're all seeing in the real economy.

I usually don't try to make too much sense of that, but what seems to be happening here is investors are focusing on the coronavirus caseloads in Europe and maybe in New York and betting, fingers crossed, that perhaps the worst is behind us, as bad as it's been, and hoping for a speedy recovery ahead. The rest of us are perhaps more preoccupied with what's, you know, right in front of us at this moment. And that's obviously pretty challenging.

Remember, though, investors were ahead of the curve on the down side as well. The stock market was in a nosedive weeks before most of us started hunkering down at home. And even now, the Dow is still down about 20% from its February peak.

MARTIN: And, Scott, just this question of - I'm not sure what metric is the economy tanking. What would be the metric for that? I mean, negative growth over a certain period of time? Like, what would be the metric?

HORSLEY: Yeah. I mean, I think we are witnessing the economy tanking. We are about to see in the second quarter of this year, by far, the steepest slowdown in economic growth or economic shrinkage that we have ever seen, even steeper than probably what we saw during the Great Recession and the 1930s. And it's because it's so abrupt. And, of course, it's because it's a deliberate decision by policymakers to put the brakes on the economy as the only means they have to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

MARTIN: Well, speaking of policymakers trying to offer some relief, the relief bill is another topic a lot of people have questions about. So this is from Bob (ph) in Portland, Ore.

BOB: My question is, is there a government stimulus program aimed at helping the tens of thousands of small self-employed businesses in the United States?

MARTIN: Scott?

HORSLEY: Yes, there are, although not all the programs are super helpful. For example, that Paycheck Protection Program that we've been talking a lot about - that's the loan program which many of those loans can be forgiven for small businesses. But it really has to go to - a lot of the money has to be spent on payroll, so that doesn't necessarily help a small-business person who's maybe a sole proprietor who doesn't have payroll other than himself or herself.

The program that is available, of course, is this expanded unemployment program. And in the past, freelancers, sole proprietors, independent contractors have not been eligible for unemployment. But because Congress has now widened the criteria in response to the coronavirus, those folks are eligible.

It is taking time, though, for that expanded eligibility to work its way down to the state level. Unemployment offices have been waiting for guidance from Washington on how to apply these new rules. And I know that's frustrating for people who need the financial help right now. Those expanded federal benefits, however, are starting to take effect. So all I can say is keep trying.

MARTIN: Staying on the same topic, here is the next question.

LORELEI: Hello. This is Lorelei from Anchorage, Alaska. I keep hearing that if you received a tax refund in the last two years that you'll get your stimulus check direct deposited. I owed money the last two years. Does the IRS have my direct deposit information if I paid using my bank account?

MARTIN: Scott?

HORSLEY: Yes. If you have given the IRS your bank account number in the last couple of years either to get a refund or because you owed the government money, you should get your coronavirus relief payment automatically, and you should get it by direct deposit. Now, if you haven't given the IRS your bank information, either because you paid your taxes or got your refund by check or because you didn't file a tax return, you can now give the IRS your bank information at irs.gov, and that will speed up your payment so you don't have to wait for a paper check for your relief payment.

MARTIN: All right. If you have a question for NPR's Scott Horsley, send it to us at npr.org/nationalconversation or share it on social media using the hashtag #nprconversation. And now we have a question from Veronica (ph) from Massachusetts, who has a question about Supplemental Security Income. And she writes that if I receive a Supplemental Security Income check, will I get a stimulus check? Scott, we actually have some new information on this. Do I have that right?

HORSLEY: Yes, Veronica is eligible for a stimulus payment. And we learned yesterday she shouldn't have to wait for a check. Just today, the government said SSI recipients do not have to file a special tax return to get a relief payment. It's taken a little bit while, but SSI recipients are now in the same boat as Social Security recipients and disability, or SSDI, recipients. So if you don't ordinarily have to file a tax return and you get your benefits through direct deposit, you should automatically get your coronavirus relief payment that way as well. Now, however, if you receive Social Security, SSDI or SSI and you don't typically file a tax return and you have a child or children under the age of 17, you should still go to irs.gov. Look for the non-filers section. And let the government know about those dependent kids because you may be eligible for an extra $500 per child under the coronavirus relief act.

MARTIN: OK, Scott, squeeze one more in here. We've gotten so many questions about when people will start to see those relief checks, those $1,200 relief checks from the government. The Treasury said today was supposed to be the day for millions. What do we know?

HORSLEY: Those payments did begin showing up in people's bank accounts this week. We've heard from some grateful people who got their money. Obviously, it won't solve all the problems, but that $1,200 or so will certainly help. And if you want to see what's happening with your payment, again, you can now go to irs.gov and click the Get My Payment feature, and you can track what's happening with your payment.

MARTIN: That is NPR's chief economics correspondent Scott Horsley. Scott, thank you so much.

HORSLEY: You're welcome, Michel.

MARTIN: Some good news in there.

You can hear much more of our extensive coverage when you download the NPR One app. Go to the Explore tab and click on The Coronavirus Outbreak for a curated stream of stories. If you have questions, keep them coming. Go to npr.org/nationalconversation. On social media, use that hashtag #nprconversation. And next, we are going to hear from an emergency room physician answering your questions about ventilators and airway management. And we hope you'll stick around for that.

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MARTIN: This is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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MARTIN: This is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michel Martin.

Now we'd like to turn to your questions about treating COVID-19. Doctors and nurses and therapists on the front lines fighting COVID-19 have learned a lot about how best to help patients. And as dire as the death tolls are, we're finding that most people do recover from the disease with help from doctors, who have been learning as they go. To help answer your questions about treating COVID-19, we are joined by Dr. Richard Levitan. He is an emergency physician who teaches airway management to health care workers around the world. And he's just back from 10 days treating patients at Bellevue Hospital in New York, which means - I'm searching for a way to say this without being cliche here, Doctor - you've been in the eye of the storm, so thank you for taking time to talk with us.

RICHARD LEVITAN: Thank you for having me. It's great to be on your show. I've been a longtime fan.

MARTIN: Oh, I'm so glad to hear. Well, what has it been like treating patients with COVID-19 in the ER? What has troubled you? And what have you found that's worked well?

LEVITAN: So my experience in New York was unlike anything I'd ever seen. It's basically a slow mass casualty event with enormous numbers of patients. But instead of traumatic injuries, almost every patient has the same diagnosis. They have COVID pneumonia with low oxygen. The ER is normally a mix of patients - things like heart attacks, minor trauma, gunshot wounds, strokes, cuts, orthopedic injuries, overdoses and other things. In New York now, it's almost entirely one disease. About 95% of patients who came through the ER while I was there were there for COVID pneumonia.

MARTIN: Wow. Well, what have you found that's worked well?

LEVITAN: Well, when I originally went to New York, I expected that essentially almost every patient who we were treating for COVID pneumonia would require a ventilator. And what has happened over the last several weeks in New York is the realization that a lot of patients can avoid having to be intubated, can avoid having to be put on a ventilator. And overall, I believe that the vast majority of patients who present with COVID pneumonia can be treated without a ventilator.

MARTIN: You know, we have a lot of questions about that. Let's just jump into them. Sarah (ph) in San Francisco had this question about ventilators.

SARAH: Recent information suggests that the survival rate of those going on a ventilator is very low and those who do survive are often physically and mentally impaired. Why not offer less-problematic options or palliative care and use the energy and money spent to get more ventilators to access more useful tools, such as testing?

MARTIN: So, Doctor, what about the survival rate? And you were just alluding to that there may be options other than ventilators. But what about the survival rate? Is the listener's question - is the premise of the question accurate? And what about other options?

LEVITAN: Well, so survival rate on a ventilator is very difficult to answer in aggregate. You know, it really depends on the patient. Most of the patients who I saw and who New York has reported having died on ventilators are nursing home patients or elderly with significant preexisting, serious underlying illness. And they're often brought to the hospital late in the disease course. So that kind of skews the data, and it makes the overall death rate on ventilators appear awful. But in some patients, specifically younger patients who don't have significant other illnesses, survival rates are actually quite high. So, you know, we've been sort of - the message has gotten out to the public that ventilators won't save you with COVID pneumonia. But actually, very few deaths, as a percentage of all COVID deaths, have occurred in patients under 50. The case-fatality rate from COVID pneumonia is estimated to be less than 1 in 300 if you're under age 50. So it goes up dramatically as you get older. But the notion that a ventilator means you're not going to survive is not necessarily the case. It's obviously much worse in the elderly and those who have underlying lung disease.

MARTIN: I wonder if I can play these next two questions back to back because they're similar. But I just want to play them both so you can understand that there is a lot of concern about that. I mean, the first question we got is from Paul (ph) in Florida. And here it is.

PAUL: There seems to be a lot of pandemonium about getting the ventilators and using them. We even have states that are sending the National Guard out to confiscate some. So I wondered, well, are these ventilators actually effective? And what's going on with them?

MARTIN: And here's a question from Anne (ph) in Washington, D.C. - similar question. And here it is.

ANNE: Do experts have any data from the past few weeks about whether use of ventilators significantly improves the chances of surviving a serious case of coronavirus after the lungs are inflamed and have stopped working? And are there clear statistical differences in the success rate by age or other conditions or how long the individual's been suffering with the virus?

MARTIN: So you see, Doctor, there is a lot of concern about this and a lot of questions about this. And you've been giving us some information, but could you just expand on that?

LEVITAN: Yeah, so let me just address the non-ventilator management because that's important. I think people don't appreciate that a lot of management of COVID pneumonia is with nasal cannulas, face masks, systems called CPAP and a variety of patient-positioning maneuvers. The area of the lungs that are earliest and most severely affected by COVID are in the lower lungs. And it turns out that simple things, like turning people onto their stomach and turning them to their left side, their right side, sitting them up, can improve oxygenation significantly. Most patients, regardless of therapy, are going to need one to three weeks overall of oxygen with or without a ventilator. But, you know, I just want to point out Boris Johnson was brought into the hospital because his oxygen saturation was slightly low, and they were able to avoid intubating him, and he was discharged after a week.

In terms of the overall need for ventilators, you know, we have to use ventilators in the sickest of patients who present with respiratory failure or impending respiratory failure. Those are patients who we can't correct their oxygen or they're just too tired out to breathe. But overall, the net intubation rate, the number of people on ventilators in New York state, has flattened. At the beginning of the month, every day, 300 patients were being added to ventilators. As of April 7, they were down to 21 new patients being put on ventilators. So social distancing is playing an enormous role in flattening the curve. We're decreasing the acute demands on the health care system. And I think what we've learned in New York is that many patients can be managed without ventilators.

MARTIN: Let's see if we can squeeze one more in. This is Michael (ph) in Santa Rosa, who had a question that seems to be on a lot of people's minds. Let's listen.

VON DER PORTEN: What does recovered mean? Does it mean being on a ventilator and now being OK, or does it mean having a positive test and now don't test positive, or you just felt ill and now you feel fine? What does it really mean?

MARTIN: Doctor?

LEVITAN: Yeah, that's a complicated question. And I think it depends on the agency reporting it. Very few places I know are determining if COVID patients are still shedding virus, you know, after treatment or after they've been in or out of the hospital, for instance. For instance, in New York City, health care workers who I met who had tested positive, they were back at work. And the CDC advised that after no fever or symptoms for three days or after seven days from the first symptom onset they could return to work. There have been patients who, even four weeks out, are still shedding virus. Ultimately, I believe that the antibody test will be needed to determine who has truly recovered.

MARTIN: Dr. Richard Levitan, thank you so much for joining us. We really appreciate it. And I hope you'll come back and see us. As you know, there are many, many questions for you, so thank you so much.

LEVITAN: Thank you.

MARTIN: Tomorrow, if you have questions about life after the pandemic or legal rights for essential workers, go to npr.org/nationalconversation. Or on social media, use that hashtag #nprconversation. Please stay with us.

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MARTIN: This is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION FROM ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michel Martin. Coming up, a doctor answers questions about immunity and how COVID-19 spreads.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: I thought I might have COVID-19, but I wasn't able to get tested. Could I have had it? Could I still get sick? I've tried to get antibody testing, and I don't know.

MARTIN: Now news.

This is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michel Martin.

We've all watched as coronavirus cases and deaths have steadily risen in the U.S. But there is another, more hopeful number increasing as well - people who have recovered from the illness. That count is now at more than 43,000. And we've heard from a number of you who have beaten COVID-19, and it turns out that that experience comes with its own set of questions. Here to help answer them is Dr. Celine Gounder. She is a professor at New York University, where she's an epidemiologist and an infectious disease specialist. Dr. Gounder, thank you so much for joining us.

CELINE GOUNDER: Oh, great to be here.

MARTIN: And I want to start our conversation with a couple of listeners who've gotten in touch with us. Vicky (ph) is an ER nurse in Lakewood, Colo. Hi, Vicky.

VICKY: Hi.

MARTIN: And Sanayo (ph) is an inpatient physical therapist in Mountain View, Calif. Sanayo, hello.

SANAYO: Hi there.

MARTIN: Hi. And they both have recovered from COVID-19. And they're both with us. And we are so glad to hear from you, so thank you. And yay (laughter), glad you're both feeling better. Before we get to your questions, can you just tell us a little bit about what your experience with the disease was like? Vicky, would you mind starting?

VICKY: Oh, sure. Yeah, so I started out with really bad body aches - body aches unlike anything I've experienced before. We've all had the flu. This was beyond that - crazy, ice-cold chills, shaky, shivering under 15 blankets, just crazy fatigue. I was in bed for about two weeks. As far as respiratory, I never really had a cough. I had a sore throat for two days. I had a runny nose. I did get the anosmia, the loss of sense of smell, which they're attributing - some people only get that, which is odd. I did have some GI symptoms, decreased appetite, which - between that and the fatigue, I did get some weight loss and atrophy. My poor little calves look like sticks (laughter).

MARTIN: Oh, boy. Wow.

VICKY: Yeah. So I was down for about three weeks.

MARTIN: That sounds really terrible.

VICKY: Yeah.

MARTIN: Sanayo, how about you? How does that compare to your experience? Similar?

SANAYO: My experience was a bit more mild. I just - I started out with a sore throat for a couple of days, then no symptoms for a couple days. Then I had a fever and some chills and aches for about a day, and then, again, several days with nothing. But then I got tested because I found out I had been exposed at work to a coworker who had also tested positive. And so combined with that, I was tested. And then after that, I had symptoms of congestion, dizziness, some shortness of breath. Never really had a cough. And then I also completely lost my sense of smell.

MARTIN: Wow. Sanayo, I understand that you're back at work as well. Vicky, you are, too. But, Sanayo, what's it like being back at work?

SANAYO: It was a bit of a culture shock because my last day at work was sort of right when we started doing social distancing and, you know, the wearing of masks at work. So coming back, it's just very different. There are new protocols. We're getting our temperature checked every time we walk into the hospital. We're all supposed to be wearing masks at all times. We're talking about surge planning and bringing in other therapists who don't normally work in the hospital if needed.

MARTIN: Wow, that's interesting. Vicky, what about you? How does it feel to be back around patients in the ER?

VICKY: Oh, you know, same for me as far as the new protocols 'cause my last day was a rocking and rolling normal ER day. And it's different now. You know, I'm so glad people are listening and staying home, but it's changed our volumes a little bit. And, yes, taking temperatures.

I have to admit that at first, I was a little nervous to go back to work because I'd seen a couple articles about people getting reinfected. I heard the word reactived. And I did notice that I had a patient that I was like, this gal has to have COVID. She looks like COVID. She sounds like COVID. And I was protective. I was like, nobody else gets this patient. She's mine 'cause I've had it, and I have got to have some immunity to it. So I feel - I kind of (laughter) - at first, I was a little intrepid. But then now I'm like, yes, I'm here. I'm going to take care of these patients. You know, nobody else who hasn't had it - don't go in there.

MARTIN: Well, I'm glad to hear. And that's why you're a nurse, so thank you for that. So do you have a question for Dr. Gounder?

VICKY: Are you talking to me?

MARTIN: Yeah, Vicky, yeah.

VICKY: Yes, yes. OK. Sorry. I didn't want to talk over the other gal. You know, my main question was, OK, in all science, you know, we get the flu. We build up immunity. We have antibodies to it. The answer may be we don't know, but, you know, do I have immunity to this guy? Like I said, today I heard the word reactivated for the virus, and I was like, oh, goodness. And then I've heard reinfection. And, like I said, you may not know, but I would like to know what the latest update is as far as immunity.

MARTIN: OK. Dr. Gounder?

GOUNDER: Really, really good question. So I am here in New York City. And part of what we're struggling with is what does that mean, you know, that you've been exposed and you've been infected? And are you now immune? And we're not sure. So, you know, I'm a doctor, an infectious disease doctor, and an internist. I attend on the general medicine wards, as well as on the infectious disease specialty consult services. So I see these patients myself all the time. And, you know, part of what we're trying to figure out is those of us who are working on these services, can we say, OK, you got sick, you're somebody who now is immune and you're lower risk and you can be on the front line while some of us might be hanging back and doing less risky work? We actually can't say that because we don't know for sure.

So to give you a couple examples, HIV. So if somebody has HIV antibodies, that's actually how we diagnose the fact that you have HIV. That doesn't mean that you're immune by any means. You know, another example is dengue. Dengue is a bit complicated, too, because if you've had dengue in the past and you have antibodies, that may actually potentiate enhanced, worse disease with dengue when you're reinfected. And, you know, another - a third example is herpes. So herpes - you can have the antibodies to herpes, and you have herpes for life. And that can reactivate over time over your lifetime. So that could be you have chickenpox as a kid and you get shingles as an adult. It could be you get genital herpes and you have outbreaks over time. It could be you have cold sores on your lips that come back over and over, you know, over time.

So we still - this is such a new virus that we, frankly, don't have the answers to that. And so on the one hand, I think it would be great to be able to say, OK, these are the people who have the antibodies. This is the basis for reopening the economy or for saying who can be a front-line worker. But that needs to be studied carefully and rigorously because we could actually be putting people at risk in a really dangerous and unethical way if we don't have that information first.

MARTIN: Sanayo, if you have a question for Dr. Gounder, I'd love it if you could hang on for a minute. We need to take a very short break. But when we come back, we will come to you, and you can toss your question in, too. We would certainly love to hear it. And if you have a question for Dr. Celine Gounder, send it to us at npr.org/nationalconversation or share it on social media using the hashtag #nprconversation. As I said, we're going to take a very short break. And we hope you'll all stay with us. And we'll be right back.

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MARTIN: This is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

And I'm here with Dr. Celine Gounder, an epidemiologist and infectious disease specialist. And we're talking about your questions about recovering from COVID-19. We're going to get to some listener questions in a minute. But first, I wanted to give Sanayo a chance to ask a question if she had one. She is an inpatient physical therapist in Mountain View, Calif., and, thankfully, has recovered from COVID-19. And she's with us now. Sanayo, do you have a question?

SANAYO: I do, yeah. So now that I've recovered, how can I be of use? I signed up to donate blood to a study that looks at immune responses of COVID survivors, but that research won't really help patients right here and now. So how do I sign up to donate blood to be used for possibly convalescent plasma? Or, you know, if there's anything else I can be doing to help, I would like to know. And then, also, do you think we should be socially distancing during flu season? You know, I know the mortality rate for COVID is much higher than the flu, but the flu still kills tens of thousands of people every year.

MARTIN: Wow. Dr. Gounder, what about those two questions?

GOUNDER: Yeah, two great questions. So the studies that will be available in your area will depend on where you are. But a great place to go is ClinicalTrials.gov. So that's ClinicalTrials.gov. And you can plug in, you know, the condition or disease, the country, you know, other search terms, and it can pull up for you what are studies across the country that are recruiting participants for COVID, for any number of things. So I would urge you to go there. I think donating blood is always a good thing, whether it's specifically for COVID or not.

And then in terms of your other question - and remind me. So she was asking about...

MARTIN: During flu season - should we be social distancing during flu season?

GOUNDER: Oh, right, right.

MARTIN: As briefly as you can 'cause I want to grab one more listener question.

GOUNDER: Yeah, so, you know, I think we should be socially distancing on some level where we're washing hands, you know, not shaking hands, we're not going to work sick or sending kids to school sick. I think at the very least, we should do that.

SANAYO: Thank you.

MARTIN: So thank you so much, Vicky and Sanayo. Thank you both so much. I'm so glad you're feeling better. And thank you for your hard work all the time. And thank you, especially, for your hard work right now. And thank you so much.

VICKY: Thank you.

MARTIN: I'm going to push one more question out here. And this is from Sean (ph) in Kodiak, Alaska. And here it is.

SEAN: Hi. My name's Sean. I'm a resident of Kodiak, Alaska. And my question is, until a vaccine is developed, isn't the only way to move forward is to have a significant percentage of the population develop immunity? And if that's the case, how do we move forward and begin to reopen the economy, you know, sooner vice later?

MARTIN: Dr. Gounder?

GOUNDER: Yeah, I think it's less about having a significant population - you know, quote-unquote, "herd immunity." Even the models that we're employing that would say maybe we can lift social distancing late June, they assume about 5% herd immunity - immunity in the population by that point. So it's not really on the basis of that. It's really about reducing transmission. And I think that's what we need to focus on. And I think that's what we need to be doing between now and getting a vaccine.

And we're going to have to do it in an intermittent way, so on and off. As cases go up, we'll have to say, you know, now is time to slam on the brakes, and now is when we can release the brakes. And that's going to require, you know, very careful calibration. And that's where the contact tracing and the testing comes in.

MARTIN: OK.

GOUNDER: And so that's why it's so important that we be able to monitor the situation very carefully.

MARTIN: That is Dr. Celine Gounder of New York University. She's an epidemiologist. Dr. Gounder, thank you so much for talking to us. We really appreciate it.

GOUNDER: Stay safe. Be well.

MARTIN: This is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MEXICAN INSTITUTE OF SOUND'S "JALALE")

MARTIN: This is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michel Martin.

Travel restrictions, flight cancellations, hotels shutting down for lack of guests or even to house medical personnel or quarantine people - the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted travel plans for millions of people all over the world. But what rights do you have as a customer? How safe is it to travel right now? And when will things get back to normal? Joining us to try to answer your questions is Catharine Hamm. She is the travel editor for the LA Times. Catharine, thanks so much for joining us.

CATHARINE HAMM: My pleasure. Thank you.

MARTIN: And the reason I say try to answer questions is we all want to get back to normal, but we don't know, so we're doing our best. So the first question a lot of people have is what rights do customers have if their trip is canceled? Can they get a refund?

HAMM: I'm assuming that you're talking about airline travel there. And that's a little bit easier than some of the others because every airline operates with a contract of carriage. And that contract of carriage spells out exactly what you can expect. Now, not every airline has been playing by those rules, and so the DOT stepped in earlier this month to say, hey, let's everybody play by the rules. So if the airline canceled your flight and could not accommodate you within a reasonable amount of time, then, yes, you should get a full refund.

Now, sometimes the airlines are saying, we'll give you a voucher instead. But if it's their doing, you need to make sure that you tell them that you want the money back if, in fact, you want the money back. Some airlines are, interestingly, giving you up to two years to use that voucher, which is a little sweetener. But essentially, what that means is you are giving the airline a loan for a couple of years of your money.

MARTIN: OK. Speaking of the airlines, a lot of them seem to be offering deep discounts at the moment. What do you say to people who are wondering if they should take advantage of these deals? What do you think customers should be thinking about if they're trying to decide?

HAMM: Well, I think that sometimes we can score great deals, but this might be a time to not be quite as motivated by that. Leisure travelers are notoriously price-sensitive. And I understand that because I am one. But I also think that with the uncertainty in the business, you might want to wait for a few months. The good news is that if you can't wait, if you see something that is absolutely great and you decide to take it, you're protected by all the same rules that were protecting you before all of this became crazy.

MARTIN: Let's take some listener questions. Philippa (ph) in Sacramento asked about cross-country travel.

PHILIPPA: My daughter is a senior in college in Connecticut. Her apartment lease is up at the end of May. What is the safest way to get her home to California? Either my husband or I would fly out to help her pack up her apartment, then we could either fly home or drive. Any advice?

MARTIN: What about that, Catharine?

HAMM: Well, if I were a mother, I would say, yes, get on a plane. Go back there. Get your kid. Get on a plane. Come back home. As a travel professional, I would say probably, yes, you can get on a plane. You can go back there. I might be tempted to rent a car and drive back to California simply because although airline travel is safe, what isn't safe is we don't know how many people on any given flight may have been exposed to coronavirus or are asymptomatic carriers. So that makes me just a little bit nervous. If you are - the two of you - together in a car on the way back, you should be OK.

MARTIN: And here's Linda (ph) in Vancouver, Wash., who asked about air travel in general.

LINDA: My question is about whether or not it's wise to travel to the San Jose, Calif., area for a weekend next week to visit my homebound 85-year-old mother with dementia and my sister, who's caring for her with no help. With all the precautions that have been taken by Alaska Airlines, would this still be a good idea or is it better to stay home until the California and Washington stay-at-home orders are lifted?

MARTIN: That's a tough one. I don't know. What do you think, Catharine?

HAMM: It's a very tough one. And my heart wants to say, yes, yes, get on a plane and go. I've been in the position that she is in. And I understand how awful that is to not be able to give love and attention to a loved one. However, if there's a way that she can put this off, if there's a way she can delay this without any bad outcome, I would certainly do that, not just because she may be exposed to coronavirus, but because she may be, not know it and then unknowingly expose her mom, who, as an 85-year-old, has more risk for contracting the illness. So I would say if you can hold off, please do.

MARTIN: Thoughtful. And one more question - let's squeeze in one more. And this is from Sherry (ph) in Ann Arbor, Mich., about international travel.

SHERRY: My mother-in-law is supposed to be traveling home to Algeria on June 1. We were wondering if this would still be a possibility or if it will still be possible for people to travel internationally.

MARTIN: Catharine, as briefly as you can.

HAMM: It's possible. Anything is possible. I don't think it's advisable right now. And, again, if the trip can be delayed, I think it's a good idea to delay that trip.

MARTIN: Well, Catharine, thank you so much for being sensitive to not just the text but the subtext. I mean, travel isn't just about going somewhere, right? It's about all the things that we travel to do, so thank you for that. Catharine Hamm is the travel editor for the LA Times. Thanks so much for joining us.

HAMM: Thank you.

MARTIN: And since we do try to leave you with a little good-news nugget, here's some uplift from my hometown, New York. The hospitals in New York have been at the epicenter of a coronavirus outbreak since it began. Now, we've celebrated the people working at these hospitals doing their best to take care of patients there. And in the middle of the fight against COVID, we've heard stories about how those folks have been celebrating their patients, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HERE COMES THE SUN")

THE BEATLES: (Singing) Little darling, it's been a long, cold, lonely winter.

MARTIN: At Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, the Beatles' ode to hope and better things, "Here Comes The Sun," plays over the speaker system whenever a COVID patient is released.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HERE COMES THE SUN")

THE BEATLES: (Singing) Here comes the sun. And I say it's all right.

MARTIN: At New York-Presbyterian, when a patient who's recovered from COVID is discharged, you can hear the Journey anthem "Don't Stop Believin'."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T STOP BELIEVIN'")

JOURNEY: (Singing) Just a small-town girl living in a lonely world. She took the midnight train going anywhere.

MARTIN: You can hear Journey's anthem to perseverance at a number of New York hospitals. But at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, they keep it local.

(SOUNDBITE OF JAY-Z AND ALICIA KEYS SONG, "EMPIRE STATE OF MIND")

MARTIN: They play it whenever a patient comes off a ventilator or when they go home - whenever the battle is won.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EMPIRE STATE OF MIND")

ALICIA KEYS: (Singing) In New York, concrete jungle where dreams are made of, there's nothing you can't do.

MARTIN: So again, we offer a salute to all those hospital workers, doctors, nurses, technicians, housekeepers, food service workers, administrators in New York and hospitals and medical centers everywhere. May you hear your anthems often.

I'm Michel Martin. We'll be back tomorrow to answer more of your questions, and we'll be talking about what a post-pandemic world might be like. So, please, send us your questions at npr.org/nationalconversation or tweet us with the hashtag #nprconversation.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EMPIRE STATE OF MIND")

JAY-Z: (Rapping) Long live the World Trade, long live the king, yo. I'm from the Empire State. That's...

KEYS: (Singing) In New York, concrete jungle where dreams are made of. There's nothing you can't do.

MARTIN: This is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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