How Some Countries Control The Coronavirus; COVID-19 Recovery : Consider This from NPR A new study suggests the coronavirus is both more common and less deadly than it first appeared, NPR's Jon Hamilton reports.

From NPR's Joel Rose: a shortage of machines to process tests is the latest bottleneck in the pandemic supply chain.

Certain countries like New Zealand, Germany and several nations in Asia have been successful in controlling the coronvavirus. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports on how leadership played a strong role.

Mara Gay is 33-years-old, lives in New York City and got sick with COVID-19 in April. She spoke with NPR's Michel Martin about her long recovery process, despite being young and healthy.

Plus, two teenagers who were looking forward to competing in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, which was cancelled this week.

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This episode was recorded and published as part of this podcast's former 'Coronavirus Daily' format.
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Why Are Some Countries Doing Better Than Others?

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Why Are Some Countries Doing Better Than Others?

Why Are Some Countries Doing Better Than Others?

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Testing for the coronavirus is increasing but not fast enough, and there are still shortages of swabs, chemicals and other supplies. Now there's another problem - not enough machines to process the tests.


HEATHER PIERCE: Those machines have been part of the bottleneck.

MCEVERS: Heather Pierce is with the Association of American Medical Colleges. The companies that make these machines just can't meet demand right now.


PIERCE: In fact, even institutions that had ordered those machines prior to the pandemic found their orders were canceled or delayed. And some still haven't been shipped.

MCEVERS: Ashish Jha with Harvard's Global Health Institute...


ASHISH JHA: This is not something that the market is going to sort out onto itself.

MCEVERS: ...Says it's a problem only the government can solve.


JHA: We're going to get stuck again. And this is a place where I think the government just needs to step in and pay companies, buy the machines for the companies or pay large amount for these tests. This is what many of us have been asking for from the federal government, and it's very frustrating.

MCEVERS: The Trump administration reiterated this weekend that testing is a job for the states. Coming up, the virus might be less deadly than scientists first thought and the story of a young, healthy woman who got COVID-19 and is still recovering five weeks later. This is CORONAVIRUS DAILY from NPR. I'm Kelly McEvers. It's Thursday, May 28.

For months now, scientists have been trying to figure out just how widespread this virus actually is.


NIR MENACHEMI: It was really difficult to know for sure and not just in our state but, frankly, in any state.

MCEVERS: Nir Menachemi is the chair of Health Policy and Management at Indiana University's Fairbanks College of Public Health. He told NPR's Jon Hamilton that back in the early days of the pandemic, health officials in his state and others only knew about people who'd been sick enough to get tested for the virus. And that number...


MENACHEMI: It doesn't capture the vast number of people out there that might also be infected but not seeking medical care.

MCEVERS: So last month, Menachemi led a study of 4,600 people in Indiana, testing them for the virus itself and for antibodies to see if they'd had it in the past. All told, 3% tested positive. That means 188,000 total people in Indiana likely had the virus.


MENACHEMI: That 188,000 people represented about 11 times more people than conventional selective testing had identified in the states to that point.

MCEVERS: And nearly half of the infected people said they'd never had symptoms. The data also suggested that for every 172 people infected, one died. That's a much lower rate than some early estimates.


MENACHEMI: But it's a very infectious disease that kills at a rate almost six times greater than seasonal flu.

MCEVERS: One in 172 - a number like that is not one that public health officials want us to use for making individual decisions. If you're older or you have a chronic health condition, the odds are higher you'll be the 1 of the 172. And if you're a healthy person, your chance of dying might be much lower, but you could still give the virus to a person who's at higher risk. There's a link to the latest reporting COVID-19's fatality rate from NPR's Jon Hamilton in our episode notes.


MCEVERS: Some countries around the world have managed the virus better than others. The question is, what makes those countries different? NPR's Jason Beaubien found out there's no single answer.


JASON BEAUBIEN: In the era of COVID, controlling the virus seems to come down to leadership. Take Jacinda Ardern, prime minister of New Zealand.


PRIME MINISTER JACINDA ARDERN: I'm speaking directly to all New Zealanders today to give you as much certainty and clarity as we can as we fight COVID-19.

BEAUBIEN: It was March. Cases of the coronavirus were exploding in Italy and Spain. As soon as New Zealand confirmed its first cases, Prime Minister Ardern took action, closing her country's borders and taking to the airwaves to explain how the country was going to confront this challenge.


ARDERN: Here's how we will know what to do and win. Already in New Zealand, we have warning systems.

BEAUBIEN: Ardern was calm and, Siouxsie Wiles says, reassuring.

SIOUXSIE WILES: Our Prime Minister really made the decision that she did not want what was happening in Italy to happen in New Zealand.

BEAUBIEN: Wiles is an associate professor of microbiology at the University of Auckland. She says Ardern declared that New Zealand would act fast and act hard against the virus. But Wiles says it was the prime minister's tone that was quite interesting.

WILES: Unlike many other countries, she never put us on a war footing.

BEAUBIEN: Her speeches weren't about attacking an invisible enemy. Instead, Ardern called on New Zealanders to unite against the virus and protect their fellow citizens.

WILES: So she's talked over and over about us being a team of five million and that we all do our part to break these trains of transmission and to eliminate the virus.

BEAUBIEN: In Asia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Vietnam and South Korea have all stopped domestic transmission of the virus or brought it down to very low levels. And here, again, leadership plays an important role. Gi-Wook Shin is the head of the Asia Pacific Research Center at Stanford University. He says these four Asian countries all did something similar to New Zealand.

GI-WOOK SHIN: I think there are some, you know, common threads, which is, you know, very swift and effective state intervention.

BEAUBIEN: Hong Kong, Taiwan, Vietnam and South Korea all have experience with the central government directing economic development, so they know how to harness manufacturing and research to attack particular problems. Another trait of the successful responses against COVID-19 is that they've all been apolitical. They haven't been framed as coming from one political party or another but rather as efforts for the good of everyone.


ANGELA MERKEL: (Speaking German).

BEAUBIEN: On March 18 German Chancellor Angela Merkel did something that she'd never done before while in office. She took to the airwaves and gave a televised national address. She told Germans to take this virus seriously, and she said it was every German's responsibility to tackle it.

JANA PUGLIERIN: Merkel's speech to the nation on national TV primetime was super unusual for her.

BEAUBIEN: Jana Puglierin is a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin.

PUGLIERIN: She has never done that in any of the previous crises - not in the migration crisis when she was under enormous pressure, not during the eurozone crisis.

BEAUBIEN: As a public speaker, Merkel has a reputation for being cold.

PUGLIERIN: But in this speech, she really managed to connect with the people. She brought them on board. She convinced them that this was necessary.

BEAUBIEN: Germany is still dealing with coronavirus transmission, but it's brought its daily case numbers down significantly. The number of deaths in Germany is far lower than in many other European countries. And Angela Merkel is getting a lot of credit for that success. As the world searches for vaccines and treatments, national leadership may be just as important in bringing the coronavirus under control.

MCEVERS: NPR's Jason Beaubien.


MCEVERS: Mara Gay is 33 years old. She lives in New York City. She's healthy. She's a runner. She ran three miles and walked 10 one day back in April.


MARA GAY: That day, I was feeling, you know, myself, felt really good. And then the next day, on April 17, I woke up, and I felt hot and feverish. Then unfortunately, the next morning, on April 18, I woke up, and it felt like, you know, an elephant was sitting on my chest. And it was pretty scary.

MCEVERS: She went to the ER, but she wasn't sick enough to be admitted. The doctor she saw said, I wish there was something I could do for you.


GAY: I just spent the next two weeks kind of breathing through it, hoping that I - my oxygen stayed high enough that I didn't have to go back in because sometimes COVID patients can crash. And that never happened to me.

MCEVERS: Five weeks later, Mara is still not a hundred percent, still can't run. She wrote about getting sick for The New York Times, where she's a member of the editorial board. She talked to All Things Considered host Michel Martin.


MICHEL MARTIN: I want to quote a part of your piece where you make it clear why you wrote it. You said, I want Americans to understand that this virus is making otherwise young, healthy people very, very sick. I want them to know this is no flu. Do you get the sense that there are people who still don't understand the seriousness of this?

GAY: Sorry. Yes. Yes. I think we know now that this virus can be extremely aggressive with even younger healthy people. I just wanted Americans to understand that they're rolling the dice. When you get something like this, you don't know how your body is going to respond.

And the doctors I've spoken to, both for my recovery personally but also just in my reporting, have said that, actually, the - they believe quite firmly that the number of patients with moderate COVID symptoms who are otherwise healthy, like me, but are managing, you know, weeks or months of pneumonia and other serious complications from this - that group of people is actually far larger than the group of people that is the sickest and in ICUs and on a ventilator. So you really don't know how your body is going to react. And also, you don't want to give this to your family, your friends, your neighbors.

MARTIN: I wanted to ask - you know, getting back to the you part of this, you mentioned that you've still recovering, you know, all these weeks later. You've - have pneumonia and restrictive airways and...

GAY: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...Reactive airways - asthma, as it were. Apart from the physical symptom, do you think this has - experience has changed you in some way? I wonder if you feel like this will stick with you after you recover physically.

GAY: Well, it definitely will. I don't know all the ways yet. I'm still kind of going through it. But, you know, I thought a lot when I was really sick about the Americans who got sick the same time that I did and, you know, didn't recover. Just being that sick and - you know, I was here in my apartment in New York. And at night, I would have trouble sleeping - was on my stomach, which is safer when you're having pneumonia symptoms. And I would hear the ambulances and knowing that they were coming for my neighbors who were in way worse shape than I was.

I think I'm going to be thinking a lot about how to do right by them by living my life to the fullest and trying to pay it forward. And I got a lot of help when I was very sick. I'm still getting a lot of help, so I just want to make sure that, you know, I can be a part of helping others who may not have the same privileges or advantages or family and friends and support that I did.

MCEVERS: Mara Gay with All Things Considered host Michel Martin.


MCEVERS: For the first time since World War II, the Scripps National Spelling Bee won't happen this year. That means Colette Giezentanner will not get a chance to compete.


COLETTE GIEZENTANNER: I am in seventh grade. Wait. I guess I'm in eighth grade. That's weird to think about.

MCEVERS: Same for Vayun Krishna.


VAYUN KRISHNA: I am 13 years old, and I'm going from seventh to eighth grade.

MCEVERS: The two say they'll miss going to the bee, where it's more about making friends than being super competitive.


VAYUN: 'Cause you're not really competing against the spellers themselves. You're competing against a dictionary.

MCEVERS: My colleague, Morning Edition host Rachel Martin, asked Vayun and Colette if they have any words they really like spelling.


VAYUN: Llullaillaco - it is a Peruvian stratovolcano.

RACHEL MARTIN: Llullaillaco.

VAYUN: The way it's spelled is L-L-U-L-L-A-I-L-L-A-C-O - Llullaillaco.

MARTIN: Well, of course it's spelled that way - seems fairly obvious (laughter). Colette.

COLETTE: Splacknuck - S-P-L-A-C-K-N-U-C-K - which is a word about a fictional animal.

MCEVERS: Colette Giezentanner and Vayun Krishna talking to Rachel Martin. From earlier in the show, Ashish Jha and Heather Pierce talked to NPR's Joel Rose for his report on the testing machine supply problem. There's a link to that in our episode notes. For more news from NPR, you can stay up to date on your local public radio station. We'll be back with more tomorrow. I'm Kelly McEvers.

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