New York City Reopens, Pandemic Could Linger For Years : Consider This from NPR After a nearly three-month lockdown and over 20,000 coronavirus-related deaths, New York City is taking its first steps to reopen parts of its economy amid protests over police brutality.

The coronavirus is surviving the heat and humidity despite initial hopes it would not last through the summer. Experts now think the coronavirus will be here for years to come.

Sweden's government implemented limited restrictions in an attempt to protect the country's economy during the pandemic. Now, they're seeing mixed results.

And for the first time in months, the massive Vatican Museums are open.

Sign up for 'The New Normal' newsletter.

Find and support your local public radio station.

This episode was recorded and published as part of this podcast's former 'Coronavirus Daily' format.
NPR logo

New York Reopening; Hindsight On Sweden's Lack of Lockdown

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/871842083/872612723" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
New York Reopening; Hindsight On Sweden's Lack of Lockdown

New York Reopening; Hindsight On Sweden's Lack of Lockdown

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/871842083/872612723" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

At some point soon, maybe even by the time you hear this, the U.S. will hit 2 million - 2 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the virus was first detected here in January. The country didn't get to 1 million until April 28.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCEVERS: A study published Monday in the journal Nature said things could have been much, much worse if the country did not shut down for most of April and May. The study suggested stay-at-home orders prevented about 60 million additional cases in the U.S. Coming up - how things have been going in Sweden, a country that never completely shut down.

This is CORONAVIRUS DAILY from NPR. I'm Kelly McEvers. It's Monday, June 8.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCEVERS: Nowhere in the U.S. has been hit harder by this pandemic than New York. Twenty-one thousand people have died just in New York City alone. Thirty thousand people died statewide. That's more than a quarter of the U.S. deaths.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANDREW CUOMO: Today is Saturday.

MCEVERS: And finally, this past weekend, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CUOMO: It's a nice day here in Albany.

MCEVERS: Things are looking a lot better.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CUOMO: Today is a day of good news. We have one of the lowest hospitalization rates since this began. And really good news - we have the lowest death rate. It's down to 35.

MCEVERS: That number was for June 5. In the entire state that day, 35 people died. About two months ago, some 700 people were dying every day.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CUOMO: So we'd like to see nobody die in the state of New York ever. But compared to where we were, this is a big sigh of relief.

MCEVERS: In New York City today, 400,000 workers in retail, manufacturing, construction and other industries can go back to work after almost three months at home.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

LEILA NOELLISTE: They have been some of the worst months of my professional life.

MCEVERS: Leila Noelliste owns a store in Brooklyn that sells hair and skin products. She's a single mom. She has three kids. Keeping her business going from home was hard enough. Now school is out, and child care centers are still closed to everyone except the children of essential workers.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

NOELLISTE: There's this push to reopen. And I feel like no one is really talking about child care because I'm just kind of like, what do you expect me to do with my kids? And I have been asking around, and no one has an answer. And I just find that very, very confusing because it's the last big piece of the puzzle.

MCEVERS: Over the bridge in Chinatown, in Manhattan...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I say we can open today (ph).

GRACE YOUNG: I know. I've been waiting for you guys to reopen.

MCEVERS: Journalist and cookbook author Grace Young found her favorite store is up and running again.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

YOUNG: It's called K.K. Discount. And I call it the Chinese mom-and-pop Target store.

MCEVERS: Grace gave a video tour to NPR today. Ken Li (ph) and his wife own the shop.

YOUNG: Mr. Li, can you tell us how you feel about reopening after being shut down for so long?

KEN LI: Oh, yeah, of course. It is a great pleasure and humbling. Yeah, because I didn't know - we shut down about three months

MCEVERS: Mr. Li closed his shop in March. And today a lot of regular customers were stopping by to say hi.

YOUNG: Yeah.

LI: And now we open. And so many old customers come here, say, oh, (unintelligible).

YOUNG: Yeah.

LI: We're pleased you have come back (ph). (Unintelligible).

MCEVERS: We should say this is just phase one. Stores in New York City have to maintain social distancing, only half the maximum occupancy. And on the subway, you have to cover your face. New York and New Jersey still make up more than a quarter of all cases in the U.S. That means as cases come down there, the nationwide numbers go down, too, when, in fact, cases in a lot of places are not going down. Cases are actually on the rise in huge states like California, Florida and Texas.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCEVERS: For those parts of the country that are seeing increases, it is a reminder that this virus is still out there. And it's looking more and more likely that, unlike the SARS outbreak of 2004, this one will not just go away on its own. Here's NPR's Pien Huang.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

PIEN HUANG: Three months ago, the World Health Organization believed that the coronavirus could be contained and wiped out. On March 2, the WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus made this declaration.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS: Containment of COVID-19 is feasible and must remain the top priority for all countries.

HUANG: Tedros thought there is a chance that we could prevent adding a new disease to the global list. Health authorities were able to stamp out the first SARS virus back in 2004. But at this point, that scenario is unlikely for COVID-19. Albert Ko is an epidemiologist at Yale and co-chair of the advisory group to reopen Connecticut.

ALBERT KO: So already, we've seen it's gone all over the world. And many people are still susceptible to it, so we're going to have this for a long time circulating with us.

HUANG: Malik Peiris, a virologist at Hong Kong University, says the key difference between COVID and SARS is when they're contagious. With SARS, most people didn't start spreading the disease until they were very sick. With COVID, though...

MALIK PEIRIS: It is transmissible even before people get symptoms.

HUANG: Which makes it a lot harder to contain - basically, that's what a disease needs to stick around. The ability to keep infecting people. The herpes virus has a clever strategy, Peiris says. Once a person is infected with it, it hides out in their body.

PEIRIS: From time to time, it gets reactivated, comes down and causes a milder disease that allows it to transmit to other people. So it's very clever in that way.

HUANG: So one person can keep transmitting the virus throughout their entire life. And while herpes hides in people, Albert Ko from Yale says other viruses hide out in animals, like Ebola.

KO: It's circulating in animals, and it spills over intermittently.

HUANG: Primates and bats carry Ebola. And when the virus comes into contact with people, it can spread quickly and is very deadly. A more mild disease like flu has yet another strategy. Peiris says that most people who catch the flu virus get over it and become immune to the strains they were infected with.

PEIRIS: As the population immunity builds up, it has to try to escape in order to survive. So the virus undergoes some mutation.

HUANG: So the flu virus revamps itself constantly, which allows it to dodge our built-up immune system defenses and the vaccines we throw at it. The good news is that the coronavirus doesn't mutate as fast as flu, and it doesn't appear to hide out in the body after the initial infection. But Ngozi Erondu, an epidemiologist and research fellow at Chatham House, says the coronavirus is probably here to torment us for the next couple years at least.

NGOZI ERONDU: One - because it's highly transmissible. Two - because we don't have a vaccine, and we probably won't have a vaccine for another two years at the minimum, I think. I mean, we keep getting all these different, like, very hopeful estimates. But realistically, it takes a long time to make a vaccine.

HUANG: There are billions of people in the world who can still be infected by it. And the only thing between the virus and them is a mask and social distance.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCEVERS: NPR's Pien Huang.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCEVERS: Unlike most other countries around the world, Sweden kept its schools, restaurants and stores open during the pandemic. Social distancing is encouraged there. Large gatherings are limited, but stuff is open. The government said its approach could lead to enough people getting infected the country would achieve herd immunity and protect the economy. Turns out the approach has been OK for the economy, but thousands of people have died. Maddy Savage has more from Stockholm.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

MADDY SAVAGE: This barbershop in downtown Stockholm has stayed open throughout the pandemic. Although to promote social distancing, there are fewer appointments.

JOHAN MARKSTROM: My name is Johan Markstrom. I'm going on parental leave in a week, so I'm just into work to clean my desk and get a haircut. You can see that people are wearing masks. And they're, like, keeping their distance on the train, which is nice.

SAVAGE: But not everyone's so diligent. At several cafes in this neighborhood, customers are sitting close to each other. And despite a government recommendation to work from home when possible, some offices are starting to fill up. Eric Soderberg is just back from his lunch break.

ERIC SODERBERG: We are living almost the same way as we did before.

SAVAGE: Sweden's authorities say tackling the virus is a marathon not a sprint. And their strategy was designed to last months not weeks. The country's foreign minister Ann Linde insists most people are following the guidelines.

ANN LINDE: It is not going on as normal in Sweden. We have restrictions when it comes to how many people can gather. There has to be distancing in restaurants, but we don't lock people in their homes. We want everybody to be outdoors.

SAVAGE: A recent poll found just 45% of citizens now have confidence in the government's ability to tackle the crisis, down from 63% in April. Unemployment is on the rise, but the production of goods and services dropped just 9% in April - not as much as economists predicted. Here's Johanna Savelin, another office worker in the neighborhood.

JOHANNA SAVELIN: I think it's good for the people who are working because more people get to keep their jobs than in other countries. But more people have died also.

SAVAGE: More than 4 1/2 thousand people have lost their lives with COVID-19 here, one of the highest figures in Europe in relation to population size. Charlotte Wahlrud, who's out having coffee with her daughter, says the government's strategy was a mistake.

CHARLOTTE WAHLRUD: We should have been taking it more seriously. I think we should have listened more how other countries treated it from the beginning.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANDERS TEGNELL: (Speaking Swedish).

SAVAGE: That's Anders Tegnell, the state epidemiologist who's been the front man of the crisis. In a recent interview, he appeared to admit Sweden should have adopted stricter measures but later said his comments had been overinterpreted. He said he still believes in the country's strategy but regrets the high death toll.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCEVERS: That's Maddy Savage in Stockholm.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCEVERS: For the first time in months, the massive Vatican museums in Rome are open. And this is what it sounds like there.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHAPEL AMBIENCE)

MCEVERS: NPR correspondent Sylvia Poggioli, who's based in Rome, recorded this beneath the Sistine Chapel. It's so empty there, in some parts of the museums, you can actually hear your own footsteps.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOOTSTEPS SOUNDING)

MCEVERS: In a normal year, more than 6 million people would visit, which means it's just so packed, you'd never be able to hear that. Now you have to get a ticket online in advance. That limits the number of visitors who then get their temperature checked at the door, so some locals who don't normally visit the museums are checking them out.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

LUIGI DIANI: (Speaking Italian).

MCEVERS: Luigi Diani said he came here on a school trip 50 years ago. He decided to come back now because there are no Americans or other tourists. He called it a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHAPEL AMBIENCE)

MCEVERS: Again, that was from our colleague Sylvia Poggioli in Rome. Other reporting in this episode from All Things Considered host Ari Shapiro and reporter Hansi Lo Wang. For more on the coronavirus, you can stay up to date with all the news on your local public radio station and in our daily coronavirus newsletter The New Normal. Sign up at npr.org/newsletters. We'll be back with more tomorrow.

I'm Kelly McEvers.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.