Answering Your Coronavirus Questions: Religion, Essential Workers And The Timeline On this broadcast of The National Conversation, we answer your questions about essential workers, the latest unemployment numbers, religious practices and consider when "normal" might return.
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Answering Your Coronavirus Questions: Religion, Essential Workers And The Timeline

Answering Your Coronavirus Questions: Religion, Essential Workers And The Timeline

Answering Your Coronavirus Questions: Religion, Essential Workers And The Timeline

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: My administration is issuing new federal guidelines that will allow governors to take a phased and deliberate approach.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The latest on plans to reopen the country. It's Thursday, April 16. And this is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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

SUSAN: I've been looking for a job, but I haven't been able to find anything. So I'm wondering if, under the CARES Act, I'm allowed to get either increased or extended unemployment benefits.

MARTIN: And we're hearing from an employment lawyer on workers' rights.

LIZ: What rights do essential workers who are over 65 years old have if they're afraid to report to work?

MARTIN: If you have any questions about the virus, go to npr.org/nationalconversation. Or on Twitter, use the hashtag #nprconversation.

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

JIM SHORES: My name's Jim Shores (ph) calling from Birmingham, Ala.

CAITLIN: My name is Caitlin (ph).

DAVE BOLL: My name is Dave Boll (ph) of Corvallis, Mont.

KELSEY: I am a bartender in Columbus, Ohio.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: I don't even know what day it is.

SUSAN: I've been looking for a job, but I haven't been able to find anything.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: My question is...

CAITLIN: My question is now that COVID-19 exists, I'm wondering if it will become a regular virus?

MO: I'm wondering how you think that Ramadan is going to be impacted.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: What ended the 1918 Spanish flu?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Thank you.

SUSAN: Thank you.

MARTIN: NPR journalists and outside experts are on hand to offer solid facts to tell you what we know and to correct some of the misinformation that's been floating around. And when we don't know something, we'll tell you that, too. 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. And every night, we begin by answering the question, what happened today?

The White House began laying out a plan to reopen the country.

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TRUMP: My administration is issuing new federal guidelines that will allow governors to take a phased and deliberate approach to reopening their individual states.

MARTIN: Also...

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MARTIN: Tensions are building in Michigan as protests continue against the governor's order to stay at home.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Like, landscapers - I mean, come on. Let landscapers - this is their prime time. They're not going to survive if it's closed down for much longer.

MARTIN: In New Jersey, an anonymous tip led the police to the remains of 17 people at a nursing home believed to be COVID-19 patients. Governor Phil Murphy is calling for an investigation.

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PHIL MURPHY: I am also outraged that bodies of the dead were allowed to pile up in a makeshift morgue at the facility. New Jerseyans living in our long-term care facilities deserve to be cared for with respect, compassion and dignity.

MARTIN: And in more grim economic news, the number of people filing for unemployment climbed by another 5.2 million. In just four weeks, more than 22 million people have lost their jobs because of the virus. We're going to talk more about this now with NPR economics correspondent Chris Arnold. Chris, welcome.

CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: Hi, Michel.

MARTIN: And I don't know any other way to say this. I mean, these latest unemployment numbers are staggering. Can you try to put this in some kind of perspective for us?

ARNOLD: Yeah, I mean, it's hard to come up with a word - staggering, scary, historic, you know, cataclysmic. Twenty-two million jobs lost. That is about 10 years of job growth, basically, all the jobs since the Great Recession wiped out in a single month. I mean, it's just - you know, we haven't seen anything like this, I mean, probably since the Great Depression. But this is different, though, because a lot of these jobs are going to come back. I mean, at least we hope so. People talk about a V-shaped recovery, this means, OK, it'll snap back quickly. You know, a lot of people are thinking, well, maybe not V-shaped, but, you know, hopefully it won't last that long, although the crystal ball is very hazy.

The one thing that we can say about the 22 million people is that these are 22 million people who managed to apply for unemployment benefits. And there's sort of a glass-half-full thing there that, I mean, the system for signing up for unemployment was not designed to handle this many people. So it's sort of miraculous that, you know, 10 times as many people as we've ever seen before were able to get crammed through this system. And now money, before too long, is going to start flowing to these people. And it's already flowing to millions of them.

MARTIN: All right, well, we'll keep looking for that silver lining, (laughter) however thin it may be. Chris, OK, so...

ARNOLD: (Laughter) I'm an optimist.

MARTIN: ...Right. As you would imagine, there are a lot of questions about unemployment, so we're going to try to answer as many as we can today. So - and first, this is something that a lot of unemployed homeowners are dealing with. This is Dave in Dallas, Texas. And he has a disturbing story. Here it is.

DAVE: I just got word back from my mortgage company that they are going to suspend payments for three months. But instead of talking them onto the end of the term of the mortgage, like a deferral - that under the CARE Act, all they can do is require that I pay the three months' mortgage payments in three months in one lump sum. This seems to defeat the purpose of the relief that I'm looking for, as I don't think I'm going to be able to pay three months' worth in three months in one lump sum when I can't come up with one month payment now. So I wanted to just verify that this is all they can offer. Or can they offer a deferral instead in some way? Thank you.

MARTIN: Chris, that just doesn't sound right, so I hope you had a chance to check into that.

ARNOLD: Yeah, I called Dave. And first of all, yeah, what his lender is telling him is just absolutely wrong. It's not true. And this is a problem that a lot of homeowners - we're hearing about. They're getting this kind of an answer from their lender. It's actually called a mortgage servicer, the company that you write your check to. We should say big banks - a lot of the big banks, like Bank of America, is doing the right thing.

And OK, let me back up a second and explain the way this is supposed to work is that under the CARES Act and other regulations, the vast majority of homeowners should be qualified to get what's called a forbearance. So basically, you know, you lose your job. You call up. You say, I don't have any money. I can't pay my mortgage. And, you know, for three months, six months, up to a year, if needed, you should be allowed to basically hit pause on your mortgage payments. And then if - at the end of that, there's a bunch of different possible outcomes for paying it back.

You know, if you miraculously have $20,000, $30,000 sitting around that you could just pay all those payments back with, great. But most people won't have that. And then you absolutely can extend the term of the loan in various ways, so you can just go back to making your normal payment and those payments. It's not like it's free money. They get put on the end of your loan term. So - but the reason this is happening, we think - and what a lot of experts think - is that there are these kind of smaller to midsize mortgage servicing companies that collect these checks, and they've got big cash flow problems if too many people take a forbearance. And it looks like they're trying to just scare people away from getting what Congress was trying to give them to help them. And it's really bad. I mean, experts are saying it's really appalling. But it's happening.

MARTIN: OK, so now we're going to dive into some of the ways of getting unemployment benefits. And we'll start with Susan (ph) in Los Angeles.

SUSAN: I've been looking for a job, but I haven't been able to find anything. And now that millions more people are on unemployment, I am obviously also being affected by coronavirus. So I'm wondering if, under the CARES Act, I'm allowed to get either increased or extended unemployment benefits? Thank you.

MARTIN: Chris, can she?

ARNOLD: Yeah, it's hard to tell all the details from that short thing. But basically, for somebody who's exhausted their unemployment - it sounds like - because they were laid off, and now the CARES Act comes along, and it's even harder to find a job, you should be able to get 13 more weeks of benefits - I think the full expanded benefits. There's one catch, though, that you had to have run out of your unemployment by July 1 of 2019. And the idea there is, well, you know, if you haven't had a job in five years, you can't have somebody coming forward and saying, oh, now I want unemployment. You know, so they had to draw the line somewhere. But basically, yes, you can get the extended benefits.

MARTIN: If you have a question for NPR's Chris Arnold, keep them coming. Send it to us at npr.org/nationalconversation. Or you can go to Twitter and use the hashtag #NPRConversation. And, Chris, our next question is about furloughed employees. Let's listen.

CARRIE: This is Carrie (ph) in Minnesota. I was just informed that I may be furloughed for as long as the end of the year. How long am I able to draw unemployment? Thank you.

MARTIN: Chris, what do we know?

ARNOLD: Well, this is a quick one. Assuming she's qualified - sounds like she is - that she would get unemployment 39 weeks, about nine months. Hopefully, people don't have to be out of work that long. But that's how much you can get.

MARTIN: All right, our next question is from Kelsey (ph).

KELSEY: I am a bartender in Columbus, Ohio. I'm receiving unemployment benefits of $104 per week. March 15 is when I applied. I'm curious about the $600 extra unemployment benefit from the federal government. Will that be retroactive from when I received benefits on March 15? Or will I get that extra $600 just whenever the government feels like rolling that out?

ARNOLD: Yes, it is retroactive. And I think it's retroactive to March 29. It might depend on the state. But no, you're going to get a big, nice check coming. And Kelsey's a great example, too. Nobody can live on a hundred bucks a week. So this is why the federal government did this, so people can basically have a living wage, a real income during this crisis.

MARTIN: Next, we have Susan from Maine.

SUSAN: Does anyone actually know when all the self-employed workers who are necessarily furloughed during state lockdowns will even get an opportunity to apply for the CARES Act unemployment compensation that we've been promised?

MARTIN: Gosh, Chris, we've heard this from so many people. What do you know?

ARNOLD: Yeah, this is a big mess, right? So the contract workers, freelancers, you know, under the CARES Act - they're supposed to get access to - but the problem is we've got systems where the computers date back to the 1970s. And trying to integrate that into the system, it's just taking a long time. A lot of states are saying, give us two or three weeks, and we'll be there. But, I mean, we're already a month in. I shouldn't laugh. But this, you know, it's like - it's a problem.

And the state of California is saying in two weeks - the good news there - they're saying in two weeks, they'll have it up and running. And then it's only going to take 24 to 48 hours to get you your money. We'll see if they're able to pull that off. One thing - this makes those emergency cash payments really important, those $1,200 payments or more if you have kids, et cetera. If you go to irs.gov and put in your bank info, you can get direct deposit. And that's the way the contract workers can get some money more quickly while they're waiting.

MARTIN: Well, Chris, you had some hopeful news in there. We're going to keep a good thought for all of the people who wrote in and all the people we didn't get a chance to get their questions to. We do appreciate all of them. That's NPR's economics correspondent Chris Arnold. Chris, thank you.

ARNOLD: You're welcome.

MARTIN: You can hear much more of our extensive coverage when you download the NPR One app. Go to the Explore tab, click on The Coronavirus Outbreak for a curated stream of stories. Keep those questions coming at npr.org/nationalconversation. This is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION. Up next, a lawyer answers more of your questions about being an essential worker.

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MARTIN: This is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michel Martin. As we heard earlier, a staggering 22 million Americans have filed unemployment claims over the past four weeks. And with the job market on its knees due to the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. economy more than ever depends on essential workers. They include nurses, grocery store clerks, delivery drivers, law enforcement officers, countless others.

But many of those essential workers have questions and concerns. We tried to answer a number of them earlier this week. But the questions keep coming in. And we're happy about that. But that's why we've welcomed back Shannon Liss-Riordan. She is an employment lawyer based in Boston. She currently has emergency motions filed against Uber and Lyft over their sick pay policies with relation to COVID-19. Shannon Liss-Riordan, thanks so much for joining us once again.

SHANNON LISS-RIORDAN: Oh, thank you for having me.

MARTIN: Now, we first have a question about grocery store workers. And this comes from Kara (ph) in Asheville, N.C.

KARA: I'm wondering what we can do for the grocery store workers. They have jobs, so they can't get unemployment and maybe don't want to be on the frontlines of the pandemic and only getting minimum wage.

MARTIN: What's your thought about that, Shannon?

LISS-RIORDAN: Well, I mean, this is such a tough time for so many people. And again, I'm going to make comments that are general guidance. This isn't supposed to be legal advice. But, you know, even these frontline workers - they didn't all sign up to be heroes. Even workers in the health care fields and medical industry - they didn't all necessarily sign up to put themselves in harm's way. So if people don't feel safe, they shouldn't have to go to work. They can talk to their employers. And employers need to be more generous now in allowing them to take sick leave, either paid if they're able to, or they might be able to take an unpaid leave of absence. And now this recent federal legislation that has been enacted expands sick leave to more people. They may be eligible for it. Worst-Case scenario - the unemployment benefits have been greatly expanded by this federal legislation, and anyone who feels that they can't work because of the crisis has an opportunity now to take unemployment if it's necessary.

MARTIN: The CDC last week issued a new guidance saying that some essential workers who have been exposed to COVID-19 but show no symptoms can return to work under certain conditions. What are those conditions? And do employees have to adhere to this guidance?

LISS-RIORDAN: Well, I mean, there are a lot of tricky decisions that are having to be made right now. And there's a lot of confusion, frankly, among a lot of employers about when they should allow workers to come back, whether they've been exposed or not. There are a lot of health authorities who are saying that if you've been exposed, you should not be in the workplace. You should be in your home and self-quarantine for some period of time.

So a lot of these questions are really being figured out right now. But if people are - have been exposed, they really shouldn't be out there working. And if they don't feel safe in their workplace, they also shouldn't be out there working. And there are possibilities of getting help both from the federal legislation and from their own employers.

MARTIN: I have another question here about workers' rights. Here it is.

LIZ: Hi, my name is Liz (ph). I'm calling from Sunnyvale, Calif. And my question is, what rights do essential workers who are over 65 years old have if they're afraid to report to work?

MARTIN: And I'm assuming the predicate here is that somebody who's over 65 is understood to be more at risk.

LISS-RIORDAN: Right. So it is recognized that older people are more at risk from coronavirus. And again, if they don't feel comfortable or safe going to work, they don't have to go to work. They shouldn't have to go to work. They, again, can talk to their employers. Employers really need to be more understanding these days about extending leave to individuals. And if they're not able to get a leave from their employer, they can file for unemployment. But it's a little tough because if you're not actually sick and you may not be eligible for sick pay, a lot of this has to - it really relies on communication between the employer and the employee right now to make these things work, to make the best of a really bad situation for everybody.

MARTIN: Here's a question about nonessential businesses. And it comes from Sarah (ph) in Philadelphia.

SARAH: What should I do if my nonessential business employer is refusing to comply with orders to shut down and expecting that I show up for work? The only guidance on the governor's website is, quote, "talk to your employer about it." I'm asking for a friend in a different state.

MARTIN: So Shannon, what do we know about this? I mean, is this a - is the employer breaking the law here? How do we understand that?

LISS-RIORDAN: Well, different states are handling this differently. And some states are saying that they will enforce these orders that nonessential businesses need to close. Some states are saying that they will fine businesses that stay open in violation of the orders. So what can be done is to reach out - well, first of all, inform your employer. I would recommend that you do it in writing so that you're protected if any action were to be taken against you. But inform your employer that you don't believe it's appropriate for the business to be operating. If that doesn't get you anywhere, you can reach out to the state or even local authorities who are enforcing these orders that businesses close.

And this could also be a situation where if you feel it is unsafe to be going to work and your workplace is not a safe place, you can file an OSHA complaint. OSHA has a website where it's taking complaints right on the website. It's another way of protecting yourself. And again, the question is whether you might be able to get some financial benefits, either from your employer, who might be willing to be more amenable to allowing leave or even providing sick pay leave even for people who aren't sick that feel that they need to be staying home, or your state law or the recent federal legislation might make it easier to get paid leave.

But again, unfortunately, a lot of people are going to have to be turning to unemployment, which is why we have seen so many claims being filed in recent weeks. And they are spiking because of so many people who are facing these very difficult questions.

MARTIN: And I have a couple of questions here that I think speak more to questions of ethics - right? - rather than perhaps the law, Shannon. And I'll see if we can get to both of them. But this is - the first is from Diana (ph) in Sahuarita, Ariz.

DIANA: I am an Amazon fulfillment center employee. And my work is considered essential. I have the option to stay home or go to work and make a significant amount of extra money. What is the right thing to do?

MARTIN: I don't know. What do you think, Shannon?

LISS-RIORDAN: Well, these are tough decisions. And a lot of people are grappling with them right now. I mean, if you are - first of all, if you don't feel safe going to work, either you have a preexisting condition or you're over 65 so you're worried that you may be more susceptible to complications if you contract the coronavirus, then, by all means, stay home. On the other hand, there are real needs. People need to eat. People need to pay their bills. And particularly, people who are getting offered additional pay to be serving these essential functions, a lot of people out there really are relying on the people who...

MARTIN: Shannon, we have to leave it there for now. We do appreciate your time. That's Shannon Liss-Riordan, employment lawyer. Thanks so much.

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MARTIN: This is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION FROM ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michel Martin. Coming up, we answer your questions about travel, immunity and vaccines.

SHORES: With what confidence do the experts believe we will be able to come up with a vaccine?

MARTIN: More on what the return to normal might be like after the news.

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MARTIN: This is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michel Martin. The U.S. has a lot of immediate problems to solve. We've been talking about a lot of them - test and equipment shortages, a nearly frozen economy, tens of millions of newly unemployed Americans. But at some point, we expect or at least hope life will return to something like normal. And you've sent us a number of questions about what exactly that will look like. To help us answer them, we are joined by Dr. Caroline Buckee. She is an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Dr. Buckee, welcome. Thanks so much for joining us.

CAROLINE BUCKEE: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: We have a lot of questions, so we're going to get to as many as we can. So we'll start with a question about a possible vaccine.

SHORES: My name's Jim Shores (ph) calling from Birmingham, Ala. And my question is, with what confidence do the experts believe we will be able to come up with a vaccine? I know they have one that sort of works for the flu. But they never made one for herpes. And they never made one for AIDS. So I'd just be interested in anybody's ideas about that. Thanks.

MARTIN: Dr. Buckee, what do you think?

BUCKEE: Well, so these different viruses, influenza and HIV, which causes AIDS, they're very different viruses. And the thing about them is how quickly they change, their mutation rates, and how they circulate in the population. I think we still have a lot of questions about this coronavirus with respect to immunity, whether we actually generate strong immune responses after we're infected. We still don't know that. We know that for other seasonal coronaviruses that circulate every winter, for example, there is some immunity, but the immunity tends to wane after about a year. And so the acceleration of the vaccine development is going forward very quickly at an unprecedented pace. But there are still questions about whether we are able to generate strong immune responses and how long they might last.

MARTIN: Can I just follow the listener's question, though, and ask is it possible that there won't be a vaccine?

BUCKEE: Well, I think there will be vaccines. The question is whether they will work well and how long immunity will last and whether, for example, the vaccine elicits an immune response that's as strong or stronger than the natural immune response that we get following an infection. And there's still just so many unknowns. I think it's important to remember that we only have known about this virus for the last few months. And so we still don't know how well the vaccines will work. But the trials are ongoing now.

MARTIN: And this is a question from a listener who's asking about life after a vaccine is developed. Let's hear it.

CAITLIN: My name (ph) Caitlin. And I am from The Dalles, Ore. And my question is, now that COVID-19 exists, I'm wondering if it will become a regular virus that will float around the world regularly running its course indefinitely. And I'm just comparing that to, like, cold and flu season. Will we now have a COVID-19 season regularly?

BUCKEE: Yes, that's a great question. And a lot of that depends on what we learn about immunity again. And if we have immunity that wanes or stops after a while, then we'll be susceptible again. And so then we have the possibility that this will become one of the seasonal circulating coronaviruses that we already have that come up every winter and circulate regularly. Again, until we understand the nature of the immune response, it's hard to say. And then, of course, the other factor is how many people are infected in this first pandemic. If sufficient numbers are infected and we have some immunity, then it is possible that we can eliminate the virus altogether. But I think most likely this will be - we will have some kind of resurging waves of this disease for a while.

MARTIN: If you have a question for Dr. Buckee, we invite you to send it to us at npr.org/nationalconversation. Or on social media you can use that hashtag #nprconversation. Here's another caller.

JEFF MCMURRAY: My name is Jeff McMurray (ph) from Salt Lake City, Utah. My question is there's a lot of interest in when this will be over. And of course the answer to that is always it depends. Given that it depends on a lot of things, what are the milestones we should be looking for? What kind of changes in data will give us indicators that we're on our way out of this?

MARTIN: Of course, this was the question of the day today wasn't it, Dr. Buckee? So as an epidemiologist, what are you going to be looking at?

BUCKEE: Yeah, so I think it's really much too early for us to be thinking that we're close to the peak here and to be relaxing physical distancing intervention. I think the key data that we need now is testing, and not just testing to see if you have the virus or not but testing for an immune response to the virus. So after you've been infected, assuming that there is some level of immunity to prevent reinfection, we want to know how many people have had the infection altogether because that will help us know whether we're really close to the peak or whether we still have a long way to go before we can reopen. Not only that, it can allow us to start sending people back to work who might have already achieved immunity.

So those tests are just starting to become available. And we'll know a lot more. And one of the reasons that we are so uncertain on how many cases we have right now is because many, many people are having infections with mild symptoms. They're not going into hospitals and getting tested. And some people appear to have no symptoms at all for the whole of the duration of their infection. And so until we really know how many people have been infected using these types of approaches, we really won't be able to say where we are with respect to the peak or how long it's going to be before we can start to reopen the economy.

MARTIN: We're going to need to take a short break in a moment. But let's see if we can squeeze another question in before we do. This is another question from Salt Lake City. And this is from Stephen Thompson (ph).

STEPHEN THOMPSON: We are currently socially isolating to flatten the curve. But when we go back to normal, won't we increase the curve again? Do we anticipate multiple social isolations? If so, what'll be the metric used to determine whether or not we need to isolate going forward?

MARTIN: Doctor, what do you think?

BUCKEE: So that's a really - that's a great question. I think that we are absolutely going to anticipate that we might have resurgence if we go back to normal. And indeed I don't think going back to normal is something that we can expect anytime soon. But even as we relax physical distancing intervention little by little, there may need to be tweaks. We may need to start isolating again. And to know how to do that, we're going to have to really take care to be testing adequately so that we can pick up and detect upticks in the number of cases and act accordingly. We need to be responsive to changing patterns of infection in the community moving forward. So I think that that's going to be absolutely critical. But yes, the risk of resurgence is real. And we're definitely anticipating that we might have to do more than one round of isolation.

MARTIN: We have lots more questions for you, doctor, so we hope you'll stay with us. We need to take a very short break. More questions with epidemiologist Dr. Caroline Buckee about what the new normal is going to look like. We hope you'll stick around for THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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MARTIN: I'm here with Dr. Caroline Buckee. She's an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. She's answering your questions about life after the pandemic is over. I want to go back to a question we didn't have time for before we took the break. This is from Dave (ph) in Corvallis, I believe it's Montana, who's wondering what normal will look like. And I just think he speaks for a lot of people, so I want you to hear his question. Here it is.

DAVE: My wife and I are retired and enjoy international travel. I cannot imagine returning to a normal of crowded airports, packed airplanes, crammed tour buses and ships, as well as international destinations welcoming large numbers of foreign visitors who are mostly elderly. What are you hearing?

MARTIN: Doctor, what about that? I mean, I'm sure a lot of people are wondering about that. I mean, is it going to be - when might it be safe to be in crowds again?

BUCKEE: So I don't think anybody knows this, unfortunately. And again, until we start to understand how many people have been infected so far and whether they're immune, it will be very difficult to say. I do think for elderly populations, we are going to be trying to protect them for as long as possible. The way that the social distancing works is that it reduces - artificially reduces the contact rate. So, you know, when you reverse that, the disease hasn't gone away. And we're going to get the disease coming right back. So we need to make sure that when we do relax these interventions, we do so in a way that protects our vulnerable populations. And right now, our elderly populations are the most vulnerable to hospitalization and death. So I don't anticipate that there's going to be a back to normal with respect to travel and vacations and so on for quite some time. And I think we just need to get used to that. And potentially, you know, into the future, we have to really rethink how we structure our societies and the risks that we're putting people in when we behave in ways that are conducive to the spread of disease. So I think it's a long haul still before we'll be going on vacation. And particularly for elderly populations, we really need to make sure that we protect them as long as we can.

MARTIN: And here's a question coming from a very different perspective from Janet (ph) in Portland, Ore. And here it is.

JANET: How are we ever going to develop immunity to the coronavirus with all of this social distancing and economic shutdown and sanitizing that we're doing? I'm just wondering if we're not over-shielding ourselves and postponing our own development of immunities and antibodies.

MARTIN: Doctor?

BUCKEE: Sure. So yes, that's exactly what we're doing. And the reason we're doing that is because we need to buy time so that the vulnerable people in our communities are not dying needlessly because our hospital systems are overwhelmed. And we've seen that happen. And we've seen it happen in Italy. We've seen it happen in New York. And so, you know, yes, herd immunity is one way to prevent the transmission of the virus, just letting it rip through the population so that everybody's infected. But it's certainly a worst-case scenario for the health of those populations. So what we're trying to do is exactly that, which is protect people from getting infected and then figuring out how we can restart the economy in ways that protect people as long as possible.

MARTIN: That's all the time we have for now. Thank you so much, Dr. Caroline Buckee. Thank you so much for your time - epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. This is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION from NPR News.

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MARTIN: This is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michel Martin. If you happen to adhere to any of the religious traditions in this very diverse country, then you already know this. Religious practice has had to get very creative as the pandemic has pushed services online and forced people to rethink or even do without some sacred practices. Weddings, funerals, coming-of-age ceremonies all have had to be adapted or put on hold. So we thought we'd spend some time talking about that and answering your questions with NPR's religion correspondent Tom Gjelten. Tom, good to hear your voice.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: Hi, Michel.

MARTIN: Well, these stay-at-home orders seem to have had some big consequences for churches, mosques, synagogues, lots of religious institutions who really value getting together. What are you hearing? What are you seeing?

GJELTEN: Michel, a couple of big consequences come to mind. No. 1, I think it may widen inequality in religious institutions, dividing the haves from the have-nots. Bigger churches, for example, already had a big online presence even before this crisis hit. They actually got most of their donations in many cases through online giving, so they're in a much stronger position. Smaller churches don't have that history. They've had to scramble to catch up.

And keep in mind, the coronavirus has hit low-income communities of color much, much harder. So naturally, the churches that serve those communities are themselves hit much harder than those that serve prosperous white communities. The second big consequence is a possible loss of membership I fear. A poll just came out today found that fully a third of regular worshippers have not even bothered to watch online services at all. So if this continues, there's a real danger those people could just drift away from their congregations.

MARTIN: Wow, that's fascinating. Well, let's take some listener questions. And the first comes from Beth (ph) in Grand Rapids, Mich. Her question is about caregivers and people who rely on services that are often offered by or at religious institutions. In this particular case, she's concerned about people who have dementia. And this is her question.

BETH: So many of them rely on day programming, such as adult day centers and church-based programs. I fear that the isolation might lead to unbearable levels of stress and potentially unintended abuse.

MARTIN: And Tom, you know, lots of people rely on church-based programs. Do you have a sense of how they're coping now that a lot of these programs have been suspended?

GJELTEN: I think it's really tough for them, Michel. You know, churches and synagogues and mosques often provide a lot of social services, not just day care - food banks, charity. The in-person portion of all those programs have shut down. Some services can be done by telephone or online but most cannot, I'm afraid.

MARTIN: And we've gotten a lot of questions about funeral services. Let's listen to two. The first is from Terri (ph) in McLean, Va.

TERRI: How will we dispose of the dead who die from coronavirus? Will they be cremated? How will this play out in countries with various religious practices in place that may conflict with our safety protocols?

GJELTEN: That's the first question. There is a second one?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: What are the burial protocols that families must follow if a loved one succumbs to coronavirus? Do you call your place of worship, whether that's a church or synagogue or a mosque?

GJELTEN: The, you know, an answer to that question, this varies a lot from tradition to tradition. For observant Muslims and Jews, for example, a funeral and a burial need to take place as soon as possible after death, ideally within 24 hours. So it's not like you can postpone the funeral. Also for Roman Catholics, the funeral mass is important. And where you're limited to gatherings of 10 or fewer people, this means that only the imam or rabbi or priest and a few family members can be present. For anyone else, the only option is to have a livestream of the service for people to follow along.

And I think there was a another question from Mo (ph) in Florida. And he writes about how we've just wrapped up Easter and Passover, with Ramadan right around the corner. And here's his question.

MO: Growing up the month of Ramadan has always been a time of social gatherings, hosting large dinners with families and friends. As Ramadan is approaching during this pandemic, I'm wondering how you think that Ramadan is going to be impacted.

GJELTEN: Well, of course, to remind our listeners, during Ramadan, observant Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. And here, it's the same story we've seen with other religious traditions. A lot is going virtual. You know, our colleague Leila Fadel has been following this. And she says there are plans for virtual iftars. That's the meal that Muslims share after sunset. Some mosques may be hosting drive-through iftars. There will be online readings of the Quran. There may even be telephone trees where Muslims call to wake each other up for the suhur. That's the time before sunrise when Muslims wake up to eat and pray.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Tom Gjelten. Tom, sorry for the little technical glitch there. NPR religion correspondent Tom Gjelten, thank you so much.

GJELTEN: You bet.

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MARTIN: And finally today, we've been asking how you're coping through all this. David Peters is the vicar at St. Joan of Arc Episcopal Church outside of Austin, Texas. He told us he turned to Paul's first letter to the Corinthians.

DAVID PETERS: It's a letter full of frustration and emotion and, like, anger and all the sort of feelings I get when I do Zoom meetings for church (laughter), like, because Paul is remote. He's far away from his church that he started.

MARTIN: For so many of us cooped up at home, the days and hours can blend together. Father Peters is using an ancient tool to break that - liturgical prayers in the morning, noon, evening and before bed.

PETERS: These are monastic patterns of prayer that Anglicans used and Episcopalians used to mark the time of the day. And I know a lot of people are feeling like it's, like, "Groundhog Day." Every day is the same. Like, I'm here in these four walls. And what do I do? And what day is it? You know, that's the old joke. Or I don't even know what day it is. And so this is a way of, like, marking that time liturgically (ph) and spiritually so that we can kind of have a frame - a prayer frame - for each day.

MARTIN: For the record, it's Thursday. And if you're here, you made it through today. Thank you for being with us. I'm Michel Martin. My co-host Ari Shapiro will be here tomorrow to answer more of your questions. Please keep sending them to us at npr.org/nationalconversation. Or tweet us with the hashtag #NPRConversation.

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