As COVID-19 Cases Rise, Thousands Gather Indoors In Tulsa : Consider This from NPR COVID-19 cases are on the rise in some states — and more testing isn't the only explanation.

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Today is Juneteenth. On this day in 1865, U.S. Army troops landed in Galveston, Texas to tell some of the last enslaved Americans they were free. More American businesses are recognizing the holiday this year.

President Trump was planning on holding a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma today. Instead, thousands will be gathering to see the President tomorrow — indoors. And as NPR's Tamera Keith reports, public health officials aren't thrilled.

Plus, Germany has been able to slow the spread of the coronavirus with the help of an army of contact tracers working around the clock. NPR's Rob Schmitz has more.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court upheld Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals (DACA). NPR's Code Switch spoke with one of the plaintiffs in the case about how she's processing the news.You can find Code Switch on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and NPR One.

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This episode was recorded and published as part of this podcast's former 'Coronavirus Daily' format.
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The President's Indoor Rally; Rise In Cases Not Explained By More Testing

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The President's Indoor Rally; Rise In Cases Not Explained By More Testing

The President's Indoor Rally; Rise In Cases Not Explained By More Testing

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Hey. As we've been saying, we're starting to bring you stories that are not just about the coronavirus. And I just want to say we're doing that because we know that people have been consuming less news about the pandemic. Still, that doesn't mean we're going to stop covering the virus. We will not. The virus is still here, and so are we. We're just changing our name pretty soon to Consider This. For now, our email is still Hit us up. We want to hear from you. OK. Here's the show.

In the past week, things have gotten pretty serious in Beijing.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Tonight, China is racing to contain a new outbreak of COVID-19.

MCEVERS: There's a new cluster of cases there. Authorities have sealed off neighborhoods, tested tens of thousands of people and restricted travel to and from the city. The size of that cluster is less than 200 cases.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: After reporting no new infections in Beijing for more than 50 days, the virus has returned.

MCEVERS: Needless to say, the United States deals with cases very differently than China and other countries. With more than 2 million cases here, it's clear this country is far from the norm. Coming up, with the pandemic in full swing, thousands of people will cram into an indoor arena to see the president.

This is CORONAVIRUS DAILY from NPR. I'm Kelly McEvers. It's Friday, June 19.

So yeah, cases in the United States are rising, and it's not just because more people are getting tested.

ALINA ALONSO: When you hear people telling you the test numbers are going up because we're testing more, that is not the whole picture.

MCEVERS: Dr. Alina Alonso, director of the Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County - in Florida, the rate of positive cases has gone from 4% a few weeks ago to over 12%.

ALONSO: The positivity tells you that we're having more cases because there's a wider spread of the virus in the community.

MCEVERS: That's the exact opposite of what Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has been saying.


RON DESANTIS: We're not shutting down. You know, we're going to go forward. And we're going to continue to protect the most vulnerable...

MCEVERS: DeSantis pointed out that while cases are going up, the number of people dying and being hospitalized for the coronavirus is still far below what it was back in April. Meanwhile, in Alabama, where the positivity rate is also climbing, Gov. Kay Ivey has not given a press briefing on the virus since May. The capital, Montgomery, currently has the highest case count in the state.

JEANNE MARRAZZO: These are under-resourced people living in the deep South who are largely black...

MCEVERS: Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, the Director of Infectious Diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

MARRAZZO: ...Who, we already know, have - by the demographic analyses of COVID - a significantly huge burden of mortality with this disease.

MCEVERS: In Alabama, around 46% of COVID deaths are African Americans, but they're just 27% of the population. Out west, Arizona's positivity rate is also climbing. The other day, the governor there finally said he would allow local leaders to enforce mask wearing. Before this week, it was only a recommendation.


GAVIN NEWSOM: We're all talking about the second wave. We're not out of the first wave.

MCEVERS: Here in California, where I live, Gov. Gavin Newsom said, on Thursday, that masks are now a requirement statewide anytime you're out of the house.


NEWSOM: Our numbers are going up not going down. Hospitalization numbers are just starting to creep back up, and I'm very concerned.


MCEVERS: Today is Juneteenth. On this day in 1865, in the aftermath of the Civil War, U.S. Army troops landed in Galveston, Texas, and told some of the last enslaved Americans there they were free. It was more than two years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. The holiday celebrates the emancipation of slaves. More American businesses are recognizing it this year, and it's the reason President Trump rescheduled a rally in Tulsa, Okla. Tulsa was the site of an infamous massacre of black people in 1921, when white mobs slaughtered Black residents. The commission that investigated decades later said up to 300 people might have been killed. So President Trump's original decision to hold a rally in that city on Juneteenth did not go over well. He rescheduled, and the rally is now Saturday. But public health officials are less concerned about the date and more worried that it's happening at all. NPR's Tamara Keith starts with why Tulsa was chosen in the first place.


TAMARA KEITH: There's a reason this rally is in Oklahoma, and it has nothing to do with the Electoral College map. The state, which was not initially hit hard by the coronavirus, is far along in its reopening, with no restrictions on large, in-person gatherings, which is convenient because the Trump campaign intends to pack the BOK Center in Tulsa right up to its 19,000-person capacity. Erin Perrine is the principal deputy communications director for the Trump campaign.

ERIN PERRINE: We are anticipating a very full rally. I mean, we've received over 1 million ticket requests.

KEITH: So no, there won't be room for proper social distancing. Attendees who will be traveling from other states and standing in line for hours will not all be 6 feet apart, and that's the way President Trump wants it.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And we expect to have - you know, it's like a record-setting crowd. We've never had an empty seat, and we certainly won't in Oklahoma.

KEITH: President Trump said, in April, social distancing, quote, "wouldn't look too good for a campaign rally". When people register for tickets for Trump's rally in Tulsa, they're greeted by a disclaimer explaining that with any large event, there is a risk of contracting coronavirus and that by attending, they agree not to hold the Trump campaign or venue liable. And Perrine says the campaign is taking precautions.

PERRINE: So we are doing temperature checks. You have not seen those at protests, where there are mass gatherings of individuals. We are providing masks, and we are providing hand sanitizer. We are taking necessary steps.

KEITH: That comparison with the protest rallies is something the Trump campaign is leaning into heavily. They say the same public health concerns weren't voiced when protesters took to the streets for racial justice.

ASHISH JHA: Protests also worry me.

KEITH: Ashish Jha is a professor of global health at Harvard.

JHA: Thankfully, protests are outside, which helps. Mask-wearing helps. Being stationary and being in one spot for several hours, to me, is much, much riskier.

KEITH: There is evidence the virus survives longer indoors than in warm, humid outdoor air. Doors open for Saturday's rally at 3, and the event starts at 7. That's a lot of hours to potentially be near someone carrying the disease.

JHA: Why does he want to subject his supporters to so much risk?

KEITH: If everyone wears masks, it could mitigate some of the risk. But while the campaign is passing them out, wearing masks is optional. President Trump has refused to wear a mask in public. And polling indicates Republicans are less likely to wear masks regularly. Nahid Bhadelia is an infectious disease physician at Boston University School of Medicine.

NAHID BHADELIA: You can hand out masks. But if you don't encourage their use, if you don't model that use, my concern is that a lot of people will not follow that public health recommendation.

KEITH: Tulsa's Health Department director told the local paper, The Tulsa World, he wished Trump's rally could be postponed to a time when the virus isn't as large a concern as it is today. But the Trump campaign is eager to set up a contrast with former Vice President Joe Biden. Biden has been holding small socially distant events, but has no immediate plans for large in-person gatherings while Trump has designs on more big, loud rallies to show off his enthusiastic supporters.


MCEVERS: That was NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith.


MCEVERS: Except for protests and demonstrations, Germany made the call this week to ban large gatherings of people until October. That's even though cases and deaths there are relatively low. It's because Germany, by and large, has taken the virus really seriously. Another example of that is in the country's extensive contact-tracing program. NPR's Rob Schmitz visited one of Berlin's busiest tracing centers.


ROB SCHMITZ: While countries like China and South Korea use cellphone data and GPS to trace coronavirus infections. Germany prefers the old-fashioned way.


SCHMITZ: A phone rings at the public health authority in Pankow, a district in Berlin. And the operator gets right down to business.


SCHMITZ: "So you've had contact with someone who's tested positive," she says. She asks for the name, types it into her computer. And the name of the caller appears on her screen listed as someone they were about to call.

UNIDENTIFIED OPERATOR: COVID-19-positive, yeah. (Speaking German).

SCHMITZ: "Did you spend more than 15 minutes at close contact with this person?" the operator asks. "OK, you went for a walk."


SCHMITZ: There are around 400 call centers like this around Germany, each of them filled with dozens of operators. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has prioritized tracking infection chains as the key to slowing the spread of COVID-19, and she aims for the country to have one tracer per 4,000 people. That's 20,000 tracers for Germany's population of 83 million. Dr. Uwe Peters, director of the Pankow District Health Authority, says when the pandemic hit, he scrambled to hire more tracers, quickly doubling his office's staff.

UWE PETERS: (Through interpreter) We've recruited staff from other district authorities, including social services. But we also have traffic wardens and librarians working for us. We've even recruited gardeners from parks and recreation.

SCHMITZ: Students and soldiers also helped out. While case numbers were on the rise in March, they had to quickly train them how to trace every infection in their district. It starts with a positive coronavirus test. The public health authority is the first to be informed about it. They then call the infected person and make a list of each person they've had contact with since they first had symptoms.

CLAUDIA KRUMMACHER: And sometimes, it's a short list - like, only the near close family. Sometimes, it's a really long list. And then, basically, you have to contact all the people on the list.

SCHMITZ: Tracer Claudia Krummacher says if anyone on the list had contact with the infected person for more than 15 minutes within 6 feet in distance, they're put under state-mandated quarantine, monitored and, if necessary, tested. And if they're positive, the whole tracing cycle begins again. Krummacher helps manage a tracing call center in Pankow. She says at the height of the pandemic, it seemed like the work would never end. Her office would occasionally have a case of an infected school teacher, which meant they had to talk to the parents of hundreds of students, asking the same questions over and over. Krummacher's husband is also a frontline health worker. She says their three young children are the first to be dropped off at their daycare or schools and the last to be picked up. It's not easy on them either.

KRUMMACHER: We cut back on our grown-up private time, so to speak, in the evenings. Of course, we are doing the work that's left over from the day. So there's not much of a social life right now.

SCHMITZ: They even work weekends because, Krummacher says, the coronavirus does not take weekends off either.


SCHMITZ: Back at Krummacher's call center, the operator discovers the friend of an infected person has symptoms, too. She dispatches a medical team to do a test.


SCHMITZ: "You'll be under quarantine for 14 days, effective immediately," she says. "This means no visitors, no going to your mailbox, no going to the supermarket. Do you have someone who can pick up groceries for you?" she asks. "If not," she adds, "we provide that service, too."


MCEVERS: NPR's Rob Schmitz.

By the way, yesterday on the show, you heard about two health care workers who are also DACA recipients. A Supreme Court decision, of course, protected them and hundreds of thousands more immigrants from deportation, at least for the time being. Our colleagues at NPR's Code Switch podcast are out with a special episode today where you can hear from one of the plaintiffs in the DACA case. You can find that episode at 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.

Additional reporting in this episode from NPR's Debbie Elliott and Greg Allen. This show is produced by Emily Alfin Johnson, Gabriela Saldivia, Anne Li, Lee Hale and Brent Baughman and edited by Beth Donovan. Thanks for listening to this show. I'm Kelly McEvers.

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