Answering Your Coronavirus Questions: Virus Mutations And The Future Of Work On this broadcast of The National Conversation, a therapist discusses mental health during the pandemic. We'll also answer your questions about mutations of the virus and the future of work.
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Answering Your Coronavirus Questions: Virus Mutations And The Future Of Work

Answering Your Coronavirus Questions: Virus Mutations And The Future Of Work

Answering Your Coronavirus Questions: Virus Mutations And The Future Of Work


This is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michel Martin. And we are here, once again, to answer your questions.

AVERY: This is Avery (ph) calling from Los Angeles, Calif.

ETHAN: Hello. This is Ethan (ph).

REBECCA: My name is Rebecca (ph), and I'm calling from Ohio.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: I have more of a political question.

REBECCA: I'm curious if those same kind of protests against state-ordered lockdowns are happening in other countries.

NICOLA: How do I have productive, supportive conversations with my mom to express my very real and legitimate concerns?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: I'm trying to figure out where we are in the pandemic.

NAOMI: How do you keep your job skills relevant while there's so much change happening?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: What do you suggest?


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 floating around. And when we don't know something, we'll tell you that, too. Send us your questions about the pandemic or the way we live now at On Twitter, you can use the hashtag #nprconversation. And every night, we begin by answering the question, what happened today?

There is more bad news for workers. Nearly 3.2 million people joined the unemployment rolls this week. That means that 33.5 million Americans have lost their jobs because of the pandemic in the last seven weeks. The White House is rejecting new guidance from the CDC on how the country's schools, workplaces and other public spaces should reopen safely, calling it, quote, "overly prescriptive," unquote.

NPR and Harvard released a new analysis showing only nine states are doing enough testing to make it safe to relax social distancing. Dr. Ashish Jha is the director for Harvard's Global Health Institute.


ASHISH JHA: For states that look like they're meeting their goals, I wouldn't take that as too much comfort because a number of cases will start going up. This is not the goal you want to hit and then say, OK, we're good, we're done. This is the goal you want to hit and say, OK, now we can start.

MARTIN: Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the next congressional relief bill needs to include money for states, as well as SNAP. That's the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Republicans criticized the speaker for moving ahead without them. But Pelosi said negotiations have to start somewhere.


NANCY PELOSI: And rather than starting in a way that does not meet the needs of the American people, we want to set a standard. And again, we need a presidential signature, so, at some point, we'll have to come to agreement.

MARTIN: New Yorkers are getting a reprieve on rent. Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a freeze on evictions for 60 days.


ANDREW CUOMO: No one can be evicted for non-payment of rent, residence or commercial, because of COVID until August 20.

MARTIN: The death toll in the U.S. climbed past 75,000 today. Around the world, there are more than 3.8 million infections and 268,000 deaths. As more and more states are lifting their stay-at-home orders and reopening businesses, many of you sent us questions, not only about testing but also about the changing nature of the virus itself. How is COVID-19 mutating? And what are some of the lessons we've learned from other countries globally that have reopened? So joining us now with the latest is NPR's Pien Huang, who reports on global health and development. Pien, welcome back. Good to hear from you.

PIEN HUANG, BYLINE: Hey, Michel. It's great to be here.

MARTIN: So, Pien, before you start answering questions about the virus mutating, would you just explain what mutation is?

HUANG: Sure, Michel. So the first thing to say is that it's not strange or weird for a virus to mutate. It's actually expected behavior. And I think it really helps to understand what a virus does. So any virus is basically a string of genetic material. And it's packaged in a shell of protein. And when a virus infects a person, it gets into a cell, and then its job is to make a bunch of copies of itself, which, you know, then go on to travel throughout someone's body. Or they can be coughed or huffed out and they can infect other people. So when a virus is copying itself over and over, some of those copies might not be exact. And some people described it to me as, you know, the virus makes mistakes when it copies itself. So those mistakes, those little changes, those are what we call mutations.

MARTIN: OK. With that being said, Libby (ph) from Chicago has our first question.

LIBBY: There is some report out of China that they have found that COVID-19 has been mutating. Are there any other studies that can confirm this? Is there an effort going on to study this and understand what are the differences between these mutations and if that is partially the reason that it affects people so differently?

MARTIN: Pien, what do we know about that?

HUANG: Sure. So the coronavirus is mutating. And it's something that researchers in China, along within the U.S. and other countries, researchers are watching this very closely. So what we know so far is that it's changing at a rate that's pretty consistent. It's about one or two mutations a month. And that's pretty slow when you compare it to something like the flu virus. And it's also generally pretty stable, so nothing researchers have been seeing so far makes them think it's changing differently from what they would have expected. So one way to think about mutations is to maybe think of them as typos. You know, sometimes when I write, I make typos, but most of those typos are insignificant. Now, some of them actually do change the meaning of a sentence. So one way to think about mutations is that most of these changes don't really change what a virus does, but some of them might. And that's what researchers are particularly looking for right now as they comb through all the data that's coming out.

MARTIN: Well, the next question actually speaks to that question about whether there are differences. This is from Kim (ph) in New Mexico who sent this in.

KIM: I had read that scientists have studied the RNA genome of the coronavirus on ill patients in New York. The genome was compared with an international database studying the coronavirus, and it appears the virus in New York is similar to the European genome. It makes me wonder if the European transmission is more lethal than the Wuhan transmission? Is that possible?

MARTIN: Pien, what about that? This whole question here has been kind of in and out of the news over the last couple of weeks. So what can you tell us about this?

HUANG: Yeah, so absolutely. So Kim is right. You know, some research are categorizing the virus into two general versions. There's one that originated in Wuhan and another one that started circulating in Europe in late February. So there was a draft paper about these two versions that's been getting a lot of press this week. It's a paper from Los Alamos Laboratory. And it hasn't been peer reviewed or published yet, but it does show that the European version seems to basically dominate wherever it goes. And so they didn't think that it was going to be more deadly, but they wondered if something had changed in the virus to make it spread more easily from person to person. And there's actually been a lot of pushback on this paper and, you know, in general any papers right now that claim that a specific mutation in the virus is changing its behavior because researchers say, sure, it's possible that the virus dominates because it spreads more easily. But it could also be dominating because travel from Wuhan shut down earlier than travel from Europe did. So there's a couple different theories out there. There are theories that the European version might be spreading more easily than the one from Wuhan, but it's not something that anyone has been able to actually prove yet.

MARTIN: Our next question is from Twitter. This one is about the different strains. And the listener asks, if there are two strains of COVID-19, does this indicate one can get COVID-19 twice and, also, that by nurses wearing the same PPE and visiting multiple patients may be cross-contaminating patients so they end up with both strains and much worse off - Pien?

HUANG: So that's a good question. And to answer it, I spoke with a virologist. Her name's Angie Rasmussen. And she works at Columbia. And she says that it's really important to define what we mean when we talk about different virus strains. So when Angie says strains, she means viruses that are different by a few small changes. And remember, most of those changes are probably unimportant typos. So to her, talking about two coronavirus strains doesn't necessarily mean that these versions of the virus are infecting a person differently. And Angie says that to the best of our knowledge right now, even though there are slightly different versions of the virus out there, they're all believed to act in our immune systems in the same way. So right now, we don't think that someone could get infected with one version, get over it and get infected with another one because from an immune perspective, she says there's just one virus.

MARTIN: And remember, if you have questions, we are trying to answer them. So you can send it to us at Or go to social media and use the hashtag #nprconversation. Pien, I have another question from Katie (ph) from Athens, Ga. Let's hear it.

KATIE: I was recently reading about the mutation rate of the virus and how there're different substrains, like the S and the L strains, in each major continent. What do we know so far about how these strains compare, like their mortality rate, the RO? And how fast does the virus mutate in a given population? How does this impact the potential effectiveness of a future vaccine? And how might this impact the potential for herd immunity and whether or how quickly someone can become reinfected with the virus?

MARTIN: OK, Pien, you got all that? That's a lot of questions.


HUANG: A lot of questions.

MARTIN: All right, well, let me just start with this one. Are there different mortality rates connected to different strains?

HUANG: So right now, there's no clear evidence that any version of the virus is more deadly or that it spreads more easily. It's something that people are really looking into. But researchers say that right now, at least, a lot of these differences can also be easily explained by how countries have responded differently to their epidemics.

MARTIN: And what about, does this affect the making of a vaccine?

HUANG: So the researchers that I spoke with said that none of the changes that we've been seeing so far seems to be affecting vaccine development. It's, you know, they've always assumed that the virus will be changing at a certain rate. And it's something that they take into account. And another thing to know about therapies and vaccines is that they usually target different parts of a virus, like, multiple parts at once. And so even if a virus makes a change to one of the places that a treatment's targeting, it doesn't mean that the treatment won't work because the treatment will target it at a few different places, so hopefully the treatment will work on at least one of its targets.

MARTIN: OK, Pien, we have only a minute left - just less than that. So I have one more question I'm just going to kind of consolidate for you. This is a person who says he grew up in the Midwest where people hunt and, you know, render in their yards. And there's so much talk about the virus spreading from wildlife to humans. Is there a chance that this could be happening here - as briefly as you can?

HUANG: Yeah, so definitely, there are diseases that jump from animals to humans all the time. And they also happen in the United States. So in 1993, there was an outbreak of something called hantavirus in New Mexico. That came from deer mice, and it caused lung disease. And luckily, that one didn't spread very easily between people. But there are other new viruses emerging in North America. There is something called Powassan virus that emerged from Canada, Heartland virus in the Midwest. And so both of these come from ticks. So yes, there are viruses that are emerging here as well.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Pien Huang. Pien, thank you so much.

HUANG: Great to be with you, Michel. Thank you.



MARTIN: This is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michel Martin. The coronavirus pandemic has made millions of Americans sick. It's overwhelmed hospitals around the country. More than 75,000 people have died here. And there's grief, social isolation, layoffs. They all have a big impact on mental health. Amelia Aldao is a clinical psychologist specializing in anxiety. She joined us last night to answer your questions about mental health. And you had so many questions for her that we weren't able to get to all of them, so we asked her to come back again tonight to answer even more. Thank you so much for coming back, Dr. Aldao.

AMELIA ALDAO: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me again, happy to be here.

MARTIN: So before we get to those, I did want to ask a question about the country's mental health overall. Is there some data out there right now that could point us to how this pandemic is affecting people?

ALDAO: Yeah, that's an excellent question. It's a little bit too early to be collecting a lot of data. You know, mental health problems actually take a while to surface in the population. But some of the early data, some of the early research that we are looking at actually suggests that, yeah, unfortunately, we are all struggling with higher levels of anxiety and higher levels of stress. So things are definitely getting more difficult in a way for many of us.

MARTIN: OK, so let's get to some of the specific questions from listeners. I just want to start with something I just know is a common situation right now. So let's hear it.

SARAH: My name is Sarah (ph). And I live in Los Angeles, Calif., recently moved here. I was five weeks into a new job, just getting the hang of being in LA, and we suddenly started working from home. And it's caused me to rely a lot more on old friends and family and FaceTime more than I ever thought. And it's just - it's been very interesting to be here in a new city and know almost no one.

MARTIN: Well, you know, doctor, Sarah sounds like she's doing OK. But do you have any thoughts for her? I mean, this is a country where people move a lot. And, you know, I just have to believe there are lots of people like her who just, you know, moved thinking it was all going to be, you know, dig in to the new place, really learn the new place. And all of a sudden, you can't go anywhere. Do you have any thoughts about that?

ALDAO: Yeah, absolutely. And I actually live in New York City, so that is, you know, one of the main places where people are constantly moving in and out. And, you know, what I would say is two things along those lines. First of all, there are many opportunities, particularly in big cities, for meeting people online through meetups, you know, and other social events. Lots of networking events tend to happen usually that, you know, you can sign up for online, and normally you go in person. And a lot of those meetups, a lot of those social events, you know, sometimes they're socials, sometimes they're work related, they're moving online. So what I've been telling my clients actually here in New York is to still participate in those virtual events because many of the people are also local. So when we do go back and when we can go back to bars and restaurants and hang out in many, you know, physical locations, they can actually begin to connect with those people in their cities.

And then the other thing, too, is just to look around you and connect with your neighbors to the extent that you can. Again, here in New York, you know, we are constantly running. I don't usually talk to my neighbors. Most of my neighbors don't talk to one another. And now we're starting to talk to each other, right? I mean, obviously far away, wearing a mask. But sometimes, you know, just taking a look around at the people near you is actually the best way to form connections. And we don't do that in general in the fast-paced, urban lives that many of us live. And I think this is a good time to sort of slow down and see if you can make friends with people living in your building or people living in your block or people living in your neighborhood.

MARTIN: All right, well, thanks for that. Here's our next question from a mom in Rhode Island. This is from Joan (ph).

JOAN: I have a family member, my daughter, who's living in Belfast, Northern Ireland. And she's away from home during the pandemic. And I am concerned about her getting through this very intense experience without family support and with limited emotional support.

MARTIN: So this is kind of the bookend to the other question, isn't it, right? This is kind of mom at the other end of the country wondering how to support. What do you think?

ALDAO: Exactly. And, you know, I think it's just also something that we talked about yesterday. It's - you know, I would encourage everyone who has loved ones who are living far away to spend more time just talking and connecting with them. You know, this crisis is affecting everybody in the entire world, but it's affecting everybody differently. And sort of, you know, what I would say to this mom is talk to your daughter and (unintelligible) time and again and try to get a sense of what is actually her struggle right now. What does she need help with right now? What does she need support with? And how can you help her? Sometimes we just get - you know, I'm a parent, too. And sometimes it's very easy to sort of get very frantic and try to solve many problems, but we don't take the time to sort of see what the other person really needs. And, you know, when we are far away and in the distance this can become even more challenging. So, you know, at a higher level, that's what I would say. At a more practical level, I don't know, just, like, spend more time on Zoom, on FaceTime, connecting with each other, talking to each other and providing her with that sense that there are people, you know, across the world who deeply care about her and who want to be there for her, support her and see her succeed.

MARTIN: Here's another question. It is also related to how to support a family member at a distance. This is from Nicola (ph), who lives in Washington D.C., but her mom lives in Nebraska.

NICOLA: My mom owns and runs a dry cleaners in Omaha, and neither her employees, nor her customers, are wearing masks because it's not required and it's stigmatized. I'm so worried about the lack of social distancing and my mom's potential exposure to the virus every single day. How do I have productive, supportive conversations with my mom to both express my very real and legitimate concerns and still be understanding of the fact that both the governor and the public's response to the virus are so drastically different in Nebraska?

MARTIN: Dr. Aldao, what do you think?

ALDAO: Yeah, this is a very challenging question. And it comes up all the time. And actually (unintelligible) this conversation today with somebody here in New York, whose family members were not actually following a lot of social distancing. And, you know, what I think - to be honest, it's a very, very, very complex situation, you know, having deep, emotional, pandemic-related conversations with our parents and close family members. So, first of all, I think it's approaching this with a sense of, you know, trying to be as patient as you can. This might not be one conversation. This might be many conversations that you need to have over time.

And then the other thing that is important, you know, is to really try to convey, again, to your parents, to your kids, your family members, why this matters to you. You know, what about this makes you anxious? Why are you so worried about them? And you might not get to change their behavior. You might not get your mom or your dad or your uncle to put on a mask or to social distance. Ultimately, people will make their own choices. But the more that you can actually tell them how it makes you feel - at the very least, if you don't get to change their behavior, at least you get to have a deeper connection with them where you're sort of talking more about the deep issues that bother you, that upset you. And it becomes less of a blaming game. And it becomes less of a who's right and who's wrong, and it becomes less of a politicization.

MARTIN: Got it. Well, thank you so much again. There's so many - so many - important and powerful questions coming to you and to us. And thank you so much for coming back. That's clinical psychologist Amelia Aldao. And if you're looking for more mental health tips from Dr. Aldao, you can follow her on Twitter. Her handle is @DrAmeliaAldao. That's A-L-D-A-O. And this is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

MARTIN: This is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michel Martin. We are in the age of DIY at home.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: I would love to know where to start in remodeling so that I can have more order and enjoy my surroundings better.

MARTIN: So where do you start? Megan Baker from Apartment Therapy is here.


MARTIN: This is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michel Martin. The U.S. workplace has transformed in a matter of weeks. Millions of Americans are now working from home full time. Restaurants, bars and hotels have shut down and laid off workers. Malls are empty, while Amazon and delivery services are thriving. We have had many questions about navigating this change. And we've asked you to send them to us online or on Twitter. And now we have a phone number you can use, too. That number is 202-403-0386. Once again, it's 202-403-0386. And to help answer the questions you've already sent us about navigating these change, we have called Jane Oates. She's a former assistant labor secretary for employment and training during the Obama administration. She's now president at WorkingNation. That's a nonprofit focused on how technology is changing labor in the U.S. Jane Oates, welcome. Thanks so much for joining us.

JANE OATES: Thanks, Michel. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So I'd like to start with a question from Naomi (ph) in Orlando.

NAOMI: How do you keep your job skills relevant while there's so much change happening? My other question is, is now the right time to consider a career change?

MARTIN: OK, so, Ms. Oates, let's tackle that separately. First question is job skills that you can focus on in the current environment.

OATES: So I think if you're lucky enough to still be employed, the first rule is to take advantage of every free opportunity your employer gives you to upscale yourself, to keep yourself more relevant in your current job but also to give you skills to move along a career pathway with your current employer. If you're not that lucky, I would say now is the time to take advantage of every low cost or free, high-quality instructional tool that's on the Internet. And there are a lot of them, especially in areas like data analytics and IT and in areas like program management and customer service. There are some terrific free courses available.

MARTIN: So to get at the career change question, let's bring in a caller who has the same concern as Naomi. This is Duke Brady who joins us from Fallbrook, Calif. He is a wilderness guide.

Duke, welcome.

DUKE BRADY: Hi. Thanks, Michel. Hi, Jane.

OATES: Hi, Duke.

MARTIN: So how has this pandemic affected your job?

BRADY: Well, I used to be a federal employee. I did work with the National Park Service up at Denali Park, Alaska, but I transitioned to sort of a wilderness guiding role with a lodge called Camp Denali. I have a new employer now. This kind of would've been my first year. I, in fact, was supposed to be guiding on the Amazon as of two days ago all the way through basically the rest of the month. I mean, I've been reminded through all of this that it's important to have plans B through Z lined up.

MARTIN: How about that? Well, you sound pretty cheery about it, so that's good. Sounds like you have a good attitude going for you, but do you have some questions that Jane might be able to help you with?

BRADY: Yeah, yeah. I've been lucky to find, you know, potentially some biology work along the way, but the main question as far as the guiding industry goes is, how long until hospitality and tourism in general, you know, start amping up and specifically those industries that are involved with the ship-based tourism and long-distance travel kind of tourism?

OATES: So Duke, this would all be my best guesstimate, but I think all of the ability to come back, especially in this industry, is based on how quickly we get universal testing and get closer to a treatment and finally a vaccine. But I would say that the cruise world is probably going to come back after the aviation world. And I don't think either of them are short term.

MARTIN: How would you suggest that people think about the - sort of the meta question? I mean, it sounds like that - Duke, let me just ask you just briefly. Is it just you're itching for a change or what's the motivation behind your desire to change?

BRADY: You know, it's just kind of dependability. I think because I was being brought on as a new guide with this really fantastic company, Apex Expeditions. They kind of have their people and, you know, the new guy maybe gets cut first. But I want to have some dependability in my line of work. So whatever that might be, I just want to be able to rely on it.

MARTIN: So, Jane, is there just some kind of meta way that you could get people to think about this so that they might think about the question of whether they should make a change right now?

OATES: So, you know, I think when you're talking about an industry like tourism, as I said, I think it's going to be longer term, maybe even as long as a year before it comes back to the full vitality it was before coronavirus hit. But I think, Duke, you're in bio - you have a biology background. That gives you a lot of options. I mean, one of the ones that comes to mind immediately that might be in that same timeframe is the jobs that are going to be open for contact tracers. I mean, all these jobs are going to require some knowledge of biology terminology. They're going to require all the skills that you have as a guide. You're alert. You have good customer service skills, and you're enthusiastic. I think it might be worth it if you were interested to look at those jobs that are supposedly going to be close to 300,000 of them across the country. And you're based in San Diego County. There's going to be a ton of them in California.

BRADY: You know, funny enough, I received an email from the county with a job offer just like that.

MARTIN: Oh (laughter).

OATES: Congratulations.

MARTIN: Duke, you buried the lead there. All right.

OATES: (Laughter).

MARTIN: Duke Brady is a wilderness guide in Fallbrook, Calif. Duke, thanks so much for joining us.

BRADY: Thanks, Michel. Thanks, Jane. Appreciate it.

OATES: Thanks, Duke.

MARTIN: We still have Jane Oates with us. If you have a question about the future of the workforce, go to And we have this number that you can call now. It's 202-403-0386.

So Jane, we have a couple of questions about what to do if you're a recent college graduate, and this one is from Nancy (ph) in Southern California.

NANCY: In the spring, I'm graduating from college. Initially, I was intending on pursuing a career in filmmaking, but now I'm wondering if there are creative opportunities that are available during the pandemic.

MARTIN: Jane, what do you think?

OATES: Well, you know, Nancy and all the class of 2020 gained everybody's sympathy, right? Their senior year was pulled out from under them. Internships, all - many of them job offers. But looking at filmmaking right now is a little bit less pessimistic than looking at travel and tourism, you know? But with all these films and production companies shut down, filmmakers are trying to figure out what the future is going to be like for them. But I'm guessing if Nancy was going into filmmaking, she's a good writer. There are always great opportunities for good writers, not just in the normal journalism, you know, great radio, great newspaper, print but online kinds of things and also with businesses. Every business sector looks for somebody who can write, so I would suggest that you put filmmaking on the backburner. Keep that as your aspiration, and in the short term, pay the bills by getting a great writing job.

MARTIN: Jane, we're going to need to take a short break in a minute, but you're going to stay with us, which we're excited about. Jane Oates - more with Jane Oates on THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.


MARTIN: This is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm here with WorkingNation's Jane Oates talking about navigating the changing American workforce. I want to go back to a question about a person who reached us on Facebook, Christy Jenkins (ph) who wrote I know a graduating college kid who is considering going on for a higher degree because they don't think there will be any jobs.

What do you think about that - just avoid this whole scene and stay in school if you can afford it?

OATES: Well, that was what I was going to say, Michel. It's all about not putting yourself in more debt. We all have heard so many gruesome stories about kids who incur debt as an undergraduate and then later as a graduate. I really think it's worth getting out and getting your feet wet, working for a while and really figuring out what you want to get that advanced degree in. You know, what's the field you really want to study? I think the undergraduate experience gives you a wonderful broad array. But when you go to graduate school, they really hone in on some specifics. And you should be ready for that. And I don't think anything prepares you for that like being in a workplace.

MARTIN: All right, let's go to the other end of the career path. Joanna Ryan (ph) on Twitter asks, what steps can you recommend for somebody who is 64 and losing every dime saved over the past 20 years and likely to lose the job as well? And, you know, the first thing I just want to say Joanna, I'm so sorry and you are probably not alone in this. So, Jane, thoughts about that?

OATES: Oh, Joanna, it's just heartbreaking, right? People who have really played by the rules their whole lives and now they're caught up in this. But they shouldn't despair. I mean, more and more employers are seeing the value of older workers. They know you know how to operate. You know, they usually know you know how to work in a team. You know how to get there on time. You have all those skills that people call soft skills or employability skills. So I wouldn't give up. I mean, I do think it's harder to sell yourself. And I would go back to one of the things we said to an earlier caller, really hone up your digital skills. You know, really make sure that you present yourself as a 64-year-old digitally proficient worker.

MARTIN: So we also got this question about leaving the job market during this pandemic. This is Suzanne (ph) in Meadville, Pa.

SUZANNE: I have worked as an elementary school art teacher for the last 30 years and will retire this summer. I've loved my work and my students, and I'm upset that I can't spend these last few months in the classroom with them. Do you have any advice on how to handle this?

OATES: Oh. Yeah. You know, I have to do a self-confession in here. Before I was a policy person, I taught for 15 years in the Philadelphia public schools. And, you know, I think you earn your retirement and you should go when you're ready. But, boy, I hope that, Suzanne, you're able to go back and really have some closure with your students, really say goodbye not only to this year's students but the hundreds of students as an art teacher that you taught every year for 30 years. I think you should, you know, have a conversation with your school about having an opportunity through the PTA or just through the teachers organization to really have a time for them to celebrate you.

MARTIN: I would celebrate her.

OATES: Yeah.

MARTIN: OK, Jane, let's squeeze in one more if we can. This is from Ethan (ph) in San Francisco as quickly as you can.

ETHAN: With most workers working at home now, how would the job industry change after the pandemic?

MARTIN: Jane, what do you think? Do you see this shifting to something long term?

OATES: Yeah, I think there's going to be lots more remote work. There's been lots of people who have put numbers out there. You know, there's - probably 10% of workers today do some of their work remotely. Some people have said it could go up to 50% doing some of their work remotely. So I think remote work is here to stay. And I also think technology is here to stay. Zoom meetings are not going anywhere.

MARTIN: Jane Oates is a former Obama administration assistant labor secretary for employment and training.

Jane Oates, thanks so much for joining us.

OATES: Thanks, Michel.



MARTIN: This is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michel Martin. So many of us are spending a lot more time at home these days. And with that may come an itch to spruce things up or a necessity to fix things up. Joining us now to answer your questions on DIY projects is Megan Baker. She is the editor for Home Projects at Apartment Therapy. That's a home and decor website with millions of social media followers.

Megan, welcome. Thanks so much for joining us.

MEGAN BAKER: Thanks so much for having me.

MARTIN: OK, Megan, confess. Like, are you looking around at your house and thinking, oh, I really should have fixed that although I'm sure your house is, like, amazing but seriously?

BAKER: No, it's not. I definitely have a lot of things that I'm realizing need fixing. I'm seeing a lot of scuffs and dings, but I'm so thankful that this is radio and you're not seeing any of it.

MARTIN: (Laughter) That's right. I'm not one of those, like, people who looks at people Zoom pictures and rates their room. I'm not one of those, no, because I don't want, you know, that to happen to me.

OK, so people are spending a lot more time at home and a lot of people are telling us that they're trying out home improvement projects for the first time. So for newbies, Sarah (ph) has a question about where to start.

SARAH: I would love to hear some ideas for home DIY projects that require minimal materials and minimal expertise that I could possibly tackle during this quarantine. Thank you.

MARTIN: OK, any suggestions for Sarah?

BAKER: Yeah, Sarah, I love this question. We actually just published a piece over on Apartment Therapy about 21 free makeovers you can do with stuff you already have around the house. A lot of people are realizing they're just tired of looking at what they already have. And there are ways to update what you have. You can read the entire piece on the site with 21 ideas, but a few of my favorites are using wrapping paper or leftover wallpaper to give a pop of pattern on the back of bookshelves. You can also swap out any art you have with printables that you can get on Etsy. So you don't have to leave your home and you get to refresh your art. And I also think that people are having a lot of fun with washi tape, which is like a thin paper tape that you can add to your walls that - you can make a lot of really fun patterns with it, and it's totally removable so you don't have to live with it forever.

MARTIN: So putting tape on your walls, isn't that the kind of stuff you used to get punished for as a kid?


BAKER: Yes, but it depends on what kind of tape. Yeah, you hear...

MARTIN: It's different tape. OK, it's different tape. OK. All right, so for those of us lucky enough to work from home, it is hard to - people are telling us that yes, on the one hand, obviously many people are very worried about losing their jobs so that people who are still working, of course, gratitude. But a lot of people are saying they're still finding it hard to create a boundary between their work and personal life. So this - here's Patrick (ph) in San Francisco.

PATRICK: Since my professional, social and personal lives are all taking place at home, I've found it increasingly difficult to keep each separate. How can I coordinate my physical space so that I'm able to stay focused during the day but relaxed and centered in the evening?

MARTIN: What do you think?

BAKER: Yeah, this is a tough one because a lot of us, like Patrick, really didn't plan on working from home, so we didn't have a work-from-home setup in place. And obviously, it is a very fortunate thing to be able to work from home. But it can be tough to compartmentalize. So if you're working from home, obviously, the ideal is an office space, right? But not everyone has space for that. I certainly don't. You know, I live in a small apartment. I don't have a whole office space, but you can carve out a separate zone in a living space where you can put a small desk and chair or if you end up using your dining table or your coffee table as a workspace, it's just important to remember to kind of remove all of your work items at the end of the day. So you're monitor, your laptop, your mouse, make sure that those are put away at the end of the day so you're not tempted to let your work time leak into your personal time. It's also a really good time to look at the furniture in your space and think about rearranging it. Maybe it's not working for you right now and you need to kind of rethink where things fit and where things go.

MARTIN: I wanted to ask this because I - this is similar to the question a lot of people have about, you know, dealing with their hair during this time. You know, one listener wrote in that she has had to put her home renovation projects on hold because of the pandemic. A lot of workers are not willing to come into a house. They'll go - they'll work outside of the house, but they won't work inside of the house. So are - do you have some ideas about what's safe to take on yourself and what kinds of things should you best leave to the experts?

BAKER: Yes, and this is a great question. It's definitely on a lot of people's minds. The best rule of thumb I can give you is if it's electrical or plumbing, leave it to a pro unless you have the experience with that. You can really hurt yourself or you can cause damage down the line with short circuiting light fixtures or plumbing that's leaking and causing mold issues eventually. It's just - it really can get messy. So the rule of thumb is if you're going to DIY things, stick to cosmetic things, so paint, repairing holes in - small holes in your walls, maybe putting up shelving. Those are all super DIY friendly, definitely things that you can feel comfortable taking on at home. And maybe wait on the electrical and the plumbing until you can get a pro in there.

MARTIN: OK, a lot - here's a question about how to kind of distinguish between what's trendy and what's best for you. Here's Tanya (ph) from Boston. I'll let her just ask you herself.

TANYA: I was wondering, what home decorating trends people are starting to hate as habit starts to shift at home? So the ones I'm thinking of are minimalism or a condo and, you know, having really uncomfortable but pretty mid-century modern couches and what trends people are turning to instead.

MARTIN: What do you think, Megan?

BAKER: This is such a great question. We had a piece on the site recently about what to do if you hate your open concept floor plan. And it was a big hit with our readers because it turns out a lot of people are kind of over their open concept floor plan now. So if you find that you, like all of these other readers, are maybe realizing that all this togetherness is too much togetherness, there are things that you can do. Bookshelves make for great room dividers, so you can kind of corner office space to create a little bit more sense of privacy. Obviously, it's not the same as walls, but you can kind of get close yourself. And sort of going off of that, we're seeing a lot of interest in creating zones in your home to kind of give your home more utility for working and working out and doing all of your Zoom hangouts, like, really customizing and creating those zones to adapt.

MARTIN: OK, quickly, one more question. This is from Charlotte (ph) in Washington, D.C.

CHARLOTTE: I love most of the things about my apartment, but the windows are too small and too few. What do you recommend for getting more light and bringing the outside in more?

MARTIN: Megan, quickly, any tips? Not that you can't knock down a wall.

BAKER: Yes, you can keep your walls light colors. Try to keep your furniture light colors. If you're in a room that doesn't need a lot of privacy, take out the blinds. Take out the curtains. Put mirrors on the walls to fake light. And you can fake it until you make it.

MARTIN: OK, that's Megan Baker. She focuses on home and do-it-yourself projects at

Megan, thanks so much.

BAKER: Thank you so much for having me.

MARTIN: That's it for us tonight. My co-host Ari Shapiro will be here tomorrow to answer more of your questions on THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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