Backlash To Public Health Measures; Coronavirus And Sports The U.S. has more coronavirus deaths than any country in the world. Dr. Anthony Fauci says the number of American fatalities is likely an under count.

Nearly 40% of households making less than $40,000 a year lost a job in March. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said on Wednesday that additional government spending may be necessary to avoid long-lasting economic fallout.

A small but vocal minority of people are pushing back against public health measures that experts say are life-saving. It's not the first time Americans have resisted government measures during a pandemic. Listen to Embedded's episode on the backlash on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and NPR One.

President Trump has prioritized getting sports running again after the coronavirus lockdown. But NPR's Scott Detrow reports the idea is facing logistical and safety challenges.

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Public Health Vs. Politics; Lessons From An Anti-Mask Protest

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Public Health Vs. Politics; Lessons From An Anti-Mask Protest

Public Health Vs. Politics; Lessons From An Anti-Mask Protest

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Wednesday morning, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell revealed a devastating new statistic. In households where people make less than $40,000 a year, more than a third lost a job in March.

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JEROME POWELL: While we're all affected, the burden has fallen most heavily on those least able to bear it.

MCEVERS: He warned more layoffs and bankruptcies are possible.

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POWELL: The scope and speed of this downturn are without modern precedent, significantly worse than any recession since World War II.

MCEVERS: And the number of people who have been killed by coronavirus - more than 83,000 confirmed so far - is probably an undercount.

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ANTHONY FAUCI: Most of us feel that the number of deaths are likely higher than that number because...

MCEVERS: Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday, especially in the New York City area.

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FAUCI: ...There may have been people who died at home who did have COVID, who were not counted as COVID because they never really got to the hospital.

MCEVERS: Coming up, anti-mask protests in a major American city more than a century ago and the arguments over reopening in professional sports. This is CORONAVIRUS DAILY from NPR. I'm Kelly McEvers. It's Wednesday, May 13.

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MCEVERS: Across the country, how you feel about reopening seems to depend more and more on your politics.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The people want to go back. The numbers are getting to a point where they can, and there just seems to be no effort on certain blue states to get back into gear. And the people aren't going to stand for it. They want to get back.

MCEVERS: Increasingly, President Trump defines the issue more as a political argument than as a public health discussion. He suggested, for instance, that blue state governors are delaying reopening to hurt him politically.

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TRUMP: And I will tell you, you'll look at some cases, some people think they're doing it for politics - here we go again - but they think they're doing it because it'll hurt me. The longer it takes to hurt me in the election, the longer it takes to open up, and I can see some of that.

MCEVERS: He's posted all-caps tweets to liberate states with Democratic governors, and he's defended small groups of anti-lockdown protesters, protests that were sometimes organized by his political allies.

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TRUMP: I've seen the people. I've seen interviews of the people. These are great people. Look, they want to get - they call cabin fever. You've heard the term? They've got cabin fever. They want to get back.

MCEVERS: These attitudes now show up in broader public opinion polls, which suggest the gap is widening between Democrats and Republicans on how quickly to reopen. And while all of this might feel unprecedented, it's not the first pandemic where Americans were divided over how and when to open up. During the flu pandemic of 1918, San Francisco started out as a success story thanks to strict public health measures, including requiring people to cover their faces. People were fined, arrested and jailed if they didn't wear masks. Most people complied, and new cases plummeted from the thousands down to just a handful. Businesses reopened. And as life seemed to go back to normal, bells rang across the city when the mask order was rescinded. But then cases spiked again. So in January 1919, San Francisco reinstituted a mandatory mask policy, and some people did not react well.

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TIM MAK: In fact, they started to organize.

MCEVERS: NPR investigative reporter Tim Mak told me what happened next.

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MAK: Despite the rising number of cases in San Francisco at the time, 2,000 people gathered together at a meeting of the Anti-Mask League, which was an organization purely created to oppose this mandatory masking rule.

MCEVERS: This Anti-Mask League meeting got heated. Some of the protesters wanted to circulate an anti-mask petition. In the end, the anti-maskers issued a statement that the new mandatory mask ordinance was, quote, "contrary to the wishes of a majority of the people."

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MAK: But 2,000 people still represents a very small minority of the public, right? So...

MCEVERS: Yeah.

MAK: ...You know, if you look at what's happening in Michigan today, these are hundreds of people in a state of millions.

MCEVERS: Right.

MAK: And, you know, 2,000 people in San Francisco at the time, while a large crowd, did not represent the popular opinion in San Francisco.

MCEVERS: Right.

MAK: Still, it was a really interesting case of folks in a pandemic organizing together to push back against public health measures.

MCEVERS: So the officials have put this mandatory mask order in place, and you've got these couple thousand hard-liners who are against it. But what do most people do? Do most people comply? And what happens after that?

MAK: Most people begin to comply. And not only that, the number of new cases and the number of deaths as a result of flu and pneumonia at that time declined, which was the first decline in quite some time.

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MCEVERS: Flu cases went down, and two weeks later, the mandatory mask order was once again lifted. We talked to one historian, Nancy Bristow at the University of Puget Sound, and she says it's not totally clear how big of a factor masks were in the total number of flu cases in San Francisco. She says masks weren't always made of the right materials and a lot of people didn't wear them right, and it's possible the second wave was more about the fact that the city didn't close businesses and stop big public gatherings like they did during the first wave. Still, the masks became a symbol, a thing people were either for or against. In the end, 3,000 people died in San Francisco - one of the highest numbers in a major U.S. city during that pandemic.

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MCEVERS: So what do you think about this story, you know, after you told it? Like, how have you come to think about it and what it means?

MAK: You know, there currently are a lot of protests...

MCEVERS: Yeah.

MAK: ...In Michigan and elsewhere about, you know, pushing back against public health measures.

MCEVERS: Right.

MAK: And I saw so many similarities comparing today and a hundred years ago. I saw civil libertarians a hundred years ago saying that if the government can tell us to wear a mask, then there's no limit to what they can do. There were folks who threatened public health workers. There were all sorts of explanations and pushback against, you know, public health measures that we see in society again today.

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MCEVERS: NPR's Tim Mak. We've got more on the backlash to public health measures then and now in a recent episode of Embedded. That's the other podcast I host. There's a link to it in our episode notes.

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MCEVERS: The NFL just announced its ball schedule, and Major League Baseball is talking about starting its season in July. It's not clear if fans will go see any of these games in person this year, but President Trump really wants them to. Sports are just another part of American life that the president wants to get back fast. Here's NPR's Scott Detrow.

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SCOTT DETROW: Last month, President Trump said something a lot of sports fans can relate to.

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TRUMP: But we have to get our sports back. I'm tired of watching baseball games that are 14 years old, but I haven't actually had too much time to watch...

DETROW: Networks like ESPN have been filling their airwaves with old games. They were nice at first, but many fans have grown increasingly antsy for live events. Some baseball fans are now waking up early to watch the Korean Baseball Organization, which began play earlier this month in front of empty seats. And ESPN has even resorted to airing live matches of the beanbag game cornhole, but President Trump has gone beyond the typical sports fans' laments. He circled back again and again to the idea of resuming play.

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TRUMP: We want to have our sports leagues open. You want to watch sports. It's important. We miss sports. We miss everything we want to get back.

DETROW: Ari Fleischer says President Trump's instinct makes sense.

ARI FLEISCHER: He knows American people are yearning for the things that we used to take for granted, sports being big one of them.

DETROW: Fleischer was President George W. Bush's press secretary when the Sept. 11 terror attack stopped sports, along with everything else.

FLEISCHER: America without sports was like a heart that doesn't pump.

DETROW: Sports did have an outsized affect that fall.

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UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: Lopez wants it away. And it's hit deep to left center. Andruw Jones on the run. This one has a chance. Home Run. Mike Piazza. And the Mets lead 3-2.

DETROW: Mets' catcher Mike Piazza gave all of New York City a cathartic moment during the late innings of the first game back at Shea Stadium.

FLEISCHER: The president was personally very cognizant of the signal it would send to the American people that we're back on our feet. You can resume your lives - put your fear aside - as soon as sports returned

DETROW: Mindful of those signals, President Bush produced one of the most dramatic symbolic moments of his presidency when he threw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium during the World Series.

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UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #3: For tonight's ceremonial first pitch - and please welcome the president of the United States.

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DETROW: But as strange as it seems, it was easier to protect against terrorism than it is to protect against a virus. The very nature of a large gathering is dangerous, no matter what precautions are taken. That's why officials, from Dr. Anthony Fauci on down, have warned that pro sports aren't advisable anytime soon, especially with fans in the seats. Still, President Trump keeps pushing for sports to return. What's more, he keeps insisting that he won't be content with games in front of empty seats.

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TRUMP: Ultimately, we want to have packed arenas. When the virus is gone, we're going to have packed arenas, and we're going to be back to enjoying sports the way they're supposed to be.

DETROW: In a statement to NPR, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany says the president is confident that with the right precautions in place, quote, "sports will continue to strengthen and unite all Americans." Still, even the sports world isn't united around the concept of resuming games. Sean Doolittle, a pitcher on the Washington Nationals, has been outspoken on his concerns about safety. He recently told the podcast "Starkville" that he's also worried about the message games would send.

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SEAN DOOLITTLE: You know, look, these guys are playing baseball, or these guys are - you know, sports are back, so everything has returned to normal. And then all of a sudden, we break social distancing measures and we stop, you know, home quarantines too soon and, you know, it spikes again and it gets out of control.

DETROW: And in that sense, instead of uniting sports, it's once again mirroring the broader culture, showing increasing divides on how to proceed in a pandemic that shows no signs of ending.

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MCEVERS: NPR's Scott Detrow.

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MCEVERS: A few episodes ago, we told you that more people are adopting animals from shelters. If you're thinking about that and thinking about a dog, you might consider fostering first. You can give a dog a temporary home and get a sense of how one would fit into your life. Also, keep in mind that delivery is slower these days. So if you're hoping to buy food or toys online, you should plan for delays and know that you will be spending about a hundred bucks a month for that, plus visits to the vet. For more advice on adopting a dog from NPR's Life Kit, there is a link in our episode notes. For more on the coronavirus, you can stay up to date with all the news on your local public radio station. I'm Kelly McEvers. We'll be back with more tomorrow.

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