Fauci Says A Vaccine Is Possible By The End Of The Year Earlier this week, an experimental coronavirus vaccine showed promise. But, for the moment, the full data from that research hasn't been released.

Friday morning, Dr. Anthony Fauci told NPR he's seen the data and it looks "quite promising." According to Fauci, barring any setbacks, the US is on track to have a vaccine by early next year.

Millions of Americans are turning to food banks to help feed their families during the pandemic. A new federal program pays farmers who've lost restaurant and school business to donate the excess to community organizations. But even the people in charge of these organizations say direct cash assistance is a better way to feed Americans in need.

A few months ago, before the lock downs, nearly 3,000 paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division left on a short-notice deployment to the Middle East. The 82nd is coming back is being welcomed back to a changed nation and a changed military.

Plus, about 180 people are hunkered down together in a Jerusalem hotel, recovering from COVID-19. Patients from all walks of life — Israelis, Palestinians, religious, secular groups that don't usually mix — are all getting along. Listen to the full Rough Translation podcast "Hotel Corona."

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Fauci Optimistic On Vaccine; What's Different About Military Homecomings

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Fauci Optimistic On Vaccine; What's Different About Military Homecomings

Fauci Optimistic On Vaccine; What's Different About Military Homecomings

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/860542385/861251745" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

The president on Friday said he wants churches to open right now.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Right now...

MCEVERS: Like this weekend.

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TRUMP: The people are demanding to go to church and synagogue, go to their mosque. Many millions of Americans embrace worship as an essential part of life.

MCEVERS: But actually, it's governors and local leaders who issue guidance on whether churches open or stay closed.

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TRUMP: If they don't do it, I will override the governors.

MCEVERS: That is authority that President Trump doesn't have.

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MCEVERS: Later, in the same White House briefing Dr. Deborah Birx said people who don't feel well should stay home. And churches should consult local data and seek guidance from local health officials about whether and how to open.

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DEBORAH BIRX: So because I really firmly believe a knowledgeable community can really make judgments for themselves.

MCEVERS: Also on Friday, Anthony Fauci told NPR that the original timeline for a vaccine - 12 to 18 months - is on track.

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ANTHONY FAUCI: I think it is conceivable if we don't run into anticipated setbacks, that we could have a vaccine that we could be beginning to deploy at the end of this calendar year, December 2020 or into January 2021.

MCEVERS: This weekend, Americans honor soldiers who never came home. Coming up, how the pandemic is changing life for those who do. This is CORONAVIRUS DAILY from NPR. I'm Kelly McEvers. It's Friday, May 22.

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MCEVERS: The Capital Area Food Bank in Washington, D.C., is really busy these days

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RADHA MUTHIAH: So I'm now walking into the conveyor belt room in our facility in northeast D.C.

MCEVERS: Radha Muthiah runs the food bank.

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MUTHIAH: So I see corn. I see cans of corn, mac and cheese, some soup cans, some rice, cereal, some shelf-stable milk.

MCEVERS: The food bank serves about 400,000 people in the region. Normally, a lot of their food comes from grocery store surplus. There's a lot less of that lately. And at the same time, demand is way up. A lot of people who would normally rely on the food bank for a few days a month are now relying on it for weeks at a time. Then there are people who've never needed the food bank before calling to figure out how to get what they need.

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MUTHIAH: And I've heard and listened in on some of those phone calls. And for the most part, you're hearing people start with an apology to say, I'm so sorry to have to call you to ask for food. I've never had to do this before. It's sad. It's disheartening for them. And some will say they're embarrassed, you know, to call, but they are just in so much need.

MCEVERS: Radha Muthiah talked to host Steve Inskeep on NPR's Morning Edition. Recently, the federal government has announced plans to work with food banks to distribute billions of dollars worth of fresh produce and milk and meat. But even people who run food banks say that is honestly not the best way to help people get food. Here's NPR's Dan Charles.

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DAN CHARLES: It has been a tough year for Borden Dairy, a milk processor in Dallas. Demand for milk is down so much with schools and restaurants closed, some farmers had to just dump their milk. But a couple of weeks ago, the company got a big new customer. Tony Sarsam, Borden CEO, says the U.S. Department of Agriculture will pay the company a $130 million to send 40 million gallons of milk to charitable organizations like food banks.

TONY SARSAM: That gives a sense of purpose and meaning to this organization. It's also important - because we work with so many independent farmers - that it gives them stability.

CHARLES: The USDA expects to spend about $3 billion on this program eventually. Now, Sarsam and all these other companies have to figure out how to give their food away.

SARSAM: We have to get off to the races and find connections within the charitable community that can take our products. Our team here has been on the phone nonstop.

CHARLES: I mean, is there a chance that there just aren't enough places out there that are set up and have the capacity to handle it?

SARSAM: There is every bit of that chance.

CHARLES: So far, he's only found takers for about 10% of the milk that his company needs to give away to earn that full paycheck from the USDA. Robin Safley's on the receiving end of these donations. She's executive director of Feeding Florida, an association of 12 food banks. The logistics of moving all this food around is a challenge even in normal times. Now throw in social distancing, volunteers worried about their safety and now these donations from USDA-funded companies.

ROBIN SAFLEY: And how many trucks are they sending in? And where are they sending them to? And we don't want them to stack up on the other trucks that we have moving.

CHARLES: Safley compares it to solving a Rubik's cube. There is, of course, a different way to help people get the food they need - give them money for groceries, which the U.S. government already does with a program called SNAP, formerly known as food stamps. SNAP actually delivers nine times more food to people than all the food banks in the country. And Jess Powers (ph), who's worked with food assistance programs in the U.S. and abroad, says this method - transferring money rather than bags of produce - is better in a lot of ways.

JESS POWERS: It's just more efficient.

CHARLES: The people who need food have more freedom to buy what they want, and the money they spend helps local businesses.

POWERS: It has this multiplier effect in communities. And it's actually a better value to give cash assistance because it creates economic activity.

CHARLES: Food banks themselves actually agree with this. Here's Craig Gundersen, an economist at the University of Illinois who also works with Feeding America, the umbrella group for food banks.

CRAIG GUNDERSEN: We truly believe that SNAP is far and away the most important component of our social safety net against hunger in our country.

DAN CHARLES, BYLINE: Some anti-hunger groups are calling on the USDA to boost the maximum amount of SNAP benefits that people can get. Gundersen says food banks still have a big role to play, and they have some advantages. Anybody can show up and get food - no proof of citizenship required, very little paperwork.

GUNDERSEN: People may run out of money at some point over the course of the month to purchase food, and they have their, you know, local food pantry where they can go get some more food. Wonderful.

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CHARLES: But food pantries can't do what SNAP does, even with $3 billion worth of extra food donations.

MCEVERS: NPR's Dan Charles.

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MCEVERS: Nearly 3,000 paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division left Fort Bragg in North Carolina earlier this year. The pandemic meant that their time deployed in the Middle East was longer than they'd originally planned. Now they are coming back to a country that looks a lot different than when they left. Jay Price from member station WUNC has this report on how the community is trying to welcome them.

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JAY PRICE: The soldiers are returning in waves. Carolyn Fitzwater and her children come every time a planeful (ph) lands, no matter that her husband won't be on one of those planes for at least a few more days.

CAROLYN FITZWATER: So today is the third installment of - well, I think we're dubbing it the Pike Field parades.

PRICE: This is homecoming in the era of COVID-19. Families aren't allowed at the airfield. So instead of the soldiers being released into a sea of hugs and kisses, they board buses that head for a nearby parking lot where a handful of supporters wait. But the buses aren't allowed to stop, so both sides just wave and shout. On a recent afternoon, about 30 carloads of families and friends joined Fitzwater, her two grown daughters and teenage son in the parking lot.

FITZWATER: We've got all our ready-made signs, and all the families come out, and lots of honking and cheering the buses as they drive by.

PRICE: Soldiers who live with family go to a drop-off site where one family member is allowed to pick them up. Then they head home for a two-week quarantine. The rest are taken to a tent camp on base or designated barracks for their quarantine. Fitzwater says it's important to come out for every plane, so soldiers have at least some kind of homecoming ritual.

FITZWATER: Sometimes it's even harder, I think, to leave without a paratrooper in your car after you're welcoming them home. But it is what we do. This is our way of life.

PRICE: It's not just being the wife of a paratrooper that's driving her, she said, but also being the mother to another. Her 20-year-old daughter Houstyn, who's standing beside her, is in the 82nd. Houstyn just got notice she'll be deploying soon for the Middle East. At the parking lot, it isn't just families showing up.

KEVIN SCRUGGS: So all my guys are scattered across the brigade.

PRICE: As their spaniel Attila watches, Captain Kevin Scruggs and his wife, Noreen, attach a string of flags to their SUV. Some of the Army engineers Scruggs commands were part of the deployment.

SCRUGGS: So I'll have a handful every single flight. So we're out here every time they come back and make sure they all get home safely and get a happy face.

PRICE: Suddenly, a pickup truck turns into the parking lot followed by a line of white buses.

FITZWATER: Here they are.

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PRICE: Soldiers wave from open bus windows and hold out cellphones for photos.

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PRICE: It was over in just a couple of minutes, all the time it took the seven buses to roll past. Military officials say the welcome demonstrates the kind of resilience that will get families through the pandemic. They say homecomings will get better for the soldiers one day. But for now, the Pike Field parking lot parade welcomes them home.

MCEVERS: WUNC's Jay Price.

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MCEVERS: Putting people in government-run quarantine hotels is one way that Israel is trying to slow the spread of the virus. Jews and Arabs in Israel tend to live separately, but in one quarantine hotel in Jerusalem nicknamed Hotel Corona, that is not the case.

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AYSHA, AMRAM AND GINA: (Singing in non-English language).

MCEVERS: Aysha Abu Shhab was recently quarantined at the hotel. She's Arab. And you're hearing her sing with Amram and Gina Maman, an old Jewish couple who were also in the hotel.

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AYSHA ABU SHHAB: They was laughing all the time, so I chose them.

MCEVERS: Abu Shhab met her neighbors one day while she was looking for people to sit with for dinner.

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ABU SHHAB: They didn't judge me. Like, I am Arabian. I am Muslim. I am that, no. I'm human that you can talk to me like there is no difference between us.

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MCEVERS: NPR's podcast Rough Translation has a recent episode all about life inside the Hotel Corona. There's a link to that 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. On Saturday, we'll have another Q&A episode from NPR's National Conversation.

This podcast is produced by Emily Alfin Johnson, Gabriela Saldivia, Anne Li and Brent Baughman, and edited by Beth Donovan. Thanks for listening to the show. I'm Kelly McEvers.

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