LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
In a taped edited interview on Fox News, President Trump says he's feeling good.
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
As he continues to downplay the coronavirus, there's still many questions about its effect on him. I'm Scott Simon.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm Lulu Garcia-Navarro, and this is UP FIRST from NPR News.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Right now, I'm medication-free. I'm not taking any medications as of, you know, probably eight hours ago or so. I'm medication-free.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: But is the president coronavirus-free?
SIMON: He's been isolated for days in the White House, unable to campaign - but later today, a rally on the White House lawn.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And Hurricane Delta makes landfall at 100 miles per hour, soaking Louisiana as it slows to a crawl.
SIMON: Tens of thousands of people have lost power, including our intrepid reporter.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Stay with us. We've got the news you need to start your weekend.
SIMON: President Trump has been itching to get back out on the campaign trail.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And now, just a week after he was hospitalized with COVID-19, he says he's up to it.
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TRUMP: I feel really, really strong, and a lot of people don't feel that way sometimes for a while afterwards, but very good.
SIMON: But how much do we really know about the president's health? We're joined now by NPR science correspondent Rob Stein. Rob, thanks for being with us.
ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Morning, Scott.
SIMON: The president spoke virtually with a doctor last night on Fox News. Did we learn anything new about his condition?
STEIN: Well, the president said he was no longer taking any medication and that a scan of his lungs when he was hospitalized had spotted what he called congestion. Now, that might possibly indicate he had had pneumonia, but it's really impossible to know without more information. And, you know, that's been the problem all along. The White House has been releasing very few details about the president's condition.
SIMON: And the president holds an event at the White House today. There are also plans to address a rally in Florida on Monday night. Medically, is this a wise idea?
STEIN: So the doctors that I've been talking to say that he may be doing well and hopefully past that crucial point when some people can take a turn for the worse, but it's hard to really know without more information. I talked about this with Rochelle Walensky. She's chief of infectious disease at Massachusetts General Hospital.
ROCHELLE WALENSKY: The thing to really note is this is a 74-year-old gentleman who just had a hospitalizing disease, perhaps a hospitalizing viral pneumonia. And sort of being out and about on the campaign trail may, in fact, not be the best thing for him.
STEIN: And, you know, not just for him - there's a big question about whether he might still be contagious.
SIMON: Well, let's talk about that. What do we know about whether President Trump may still be able to spread the virus?
STEIN: Well, you know, during last night's interview, Trump mentioned getting tested, but the White House didn't release any results. And the CDC recommends people remain isolated for at least 10 days after they get COVID, but it's unclear when the clock started ticking for the president. He may just be about to hit that 10-day mark or close to it, but today looks like it would be pushing it, even under the best scenario. I talked about this with Eric Topol. He runs the Scripps Research Translational Institute.
ERIC TOPOL: You'd have to be considered infectious until proven otherwise. Why is he bringing, you know, a large group of people together? We've seen how that works. They come together, they don't have masks and, typically, as we saw with the Rose Garden event, there's also, you know, indoor events. You know, we already had a superspreader event at the White House not long ago, and we don't want to recreate the crime.
STEIN: Topol says the steroid the president was taking could make him contagious for longer than those 10 days, and the CDC recommends 20 days of isolation for people with more serious cases, which the president may very well have had.
SIMON: Rob, a related matter - The New York Times, citing unnamed sources, reports that the White House blocked the CDC from requiring passengers and employees to wear masks on all buses, trains and aircraft. What can you tell us about this?
STEIN: Well, my colleague Selena Simmons-Duffin has confirmed this. A former administration official who's familiar with these discussions tells her, yes, the White House has been blocking the CDC effort for months. The official asked not to be identified while discussing internal administration matters. But, you know, this is just the latest example of political interference in CDC decisions from guidance on who needs to get tested to how schools can safely reopen, and public health experts say this has really undermined the CDC at a time when the nation really needs the agency to fight the pandemic.
SIMON: NPR health correspondent Rob Stein. Thanks so much.
STEIN: You bet, Scott.
SIMON: There's a little over three weeks until Election Day. Sinking poll numbers for the Trump campaign and now a scrapped presidential debate - there's pressure for the president to make up for lost time.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So today, as we heard, Trump plans to address supporters at the White House before breaking out of his COVID isolation there. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith joins me now. Hello.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hello.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So this administration has not been terribly transparent over the course of the president's illness. So what are they saying about how safe it is for him to be out and about? What rationale are they giving?
KEITH: They aren't, really. Since last week, White House officials, including Dr. Conley, the president himself, have been asked directly and repeatedly when the president last tested negative for the virus - simple question. They have refused to answer. As for whether President Trump is still contagious, still has viral load, Dr. Marc Siegel, a medical expert on Fox News, interviewed Trump about this last night, and here's what happened.
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MARC SIEGEL: Have you been retested?
TRUMP: I have been retested, and I haven't even found out numbers or anything yet. But I've been retested, and I know I'm at either the bottom of the scale or free.
KEITH: Let's just say that if the president was virus-free, he would be shouting it from the rooftops, and that's not what he said. His doctor hasn't put out a memo since Thursday, when he said he thought the president would be on track to normal activity by Saturday. But the White House hasn't released any test results or anything to really back up President Trump's claim that he's at the bottom of the scale.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And yet he is holding a public event today at the White House. What have you learned about it?
KEITH: Well, so the president is expected to speak from a balcony. The guests will be on the South Lawn, and a source familiar with the planning says that there will be safety precautions in place, that attendees must bring a mask with them and that they will be instructed to wear it on the White House complex. They will also need to submit to a COVID screening, including a temperature check and questionnaire.
They didn't say how many attendees would be there, but we are expecting several hundred. Joe Biden, the president's opponent in the presidential race, told reporters that it's too much. Quote, "I wouldn't show up unless you have a mask and we're distanced." We don't know how much distancing there will be. And then, of course, there's this rally President Trump is planning to hold on Monday that he says will be a very big rally.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Former Vice President Joe Biden has been traveling. He was in Las Vegas yesterday speaking outside to his supporters, wearing a mask and his signature sunglasses. What's his message at this moment?
KEITH: Yeah, those aviators were out there. It was a drive-in rally, and in essence, Biden's message on coronavirus is that President Trump has not done a good job managing it and that he can't be trusted to manage it going forward.
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JOE BIDEN: His reckless personal conduct since his diagnosis, the destabilizing effect it's having on our government is unconscionable. He didn't take the necessary precautions to protect himself or others. The longer Donald Trump is president, the more reckless he gets.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So you hear Biden there saying the president is reckless. And, you know, Tam, there's been a lot of speculation because of the way President Trump's dealt with the stimulus talks.
KEITH: Indeed, there has been a lot of speculation. Just to catch people up on the ongoing COVID relief talks, he first tweeted in all caps while in the hospital that he wanted something passed. Then he pulled out of the negotiations by tweet. Then he said he wanted something small. Then he said he wanted something bigger than either Democrats or Republicans were talking about. It's not entirely out of character with his totally erratic approach to negotiations in the past, from new NAFTA to the Republican effort earlier in his administration to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Particularly when the markets are reacting, the tweets can get all over the place.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. Finally, there's been some news on the presidential debate that was planned for this week. What is it?
KEITH: It's not happening. The debate commission had wanted to make it virtual. The Trump campaign balked. Then both candidates decided they had other plans. But the commission says they are on track for a debate to happen on October 22. That would be the final debate. They say that both campaigns have already agreed to that one, and so planning continues for that debate.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: NPR's White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Thank you so much.
KEITH: You're welcome.
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SIMON: Hundreds of thousands of people are without power in the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Delta slammed ashore in Louisiana last night. It hit with sustained winds of 100 miles per hour and a 10-foot tidal surge.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Delta made landfall in the same area ravaged by Hurricane Laura that pummeled the state just six weeks ago. NPR's John Burnett is with us from Lafayette, La. Hi there.
JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Good morning, Lulu.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: John, it sounds like where you are got hit hard. What's the latest?
BURNETT: Well, Delta came ashore exactly where forecasters said it would. The eyewall across the little unincorporated Cajun village of Creole between Lake Charles and Lafayette. And thankfully, these are mostly unpopulated areas known for their wildlife, refuges and wetlands. We can't get out to see the damage yet, but it looks like the towns of Lake Arthur and Jennings and Crowley took a good whipping. And then there's Lake Charles, which took that direct hit from Hurricane Laura on August 27 and was still recovering.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. Do we know anything about conditions in Lake Charles this morning?
BURNETT: Not yet. It's still dark. Thankfully, the storm took a course slightly east of Lake Charles. And this was, as you said, a Category 2, still strong, but not a Category 4. But Lake Charles was already in a world of trouble from Laura. Hundreds of houses had blue tarps on their rooftops where that earlier storm had blown away pieces of the house, debris was piled in these great heaps on the curbs and the wind probably scattered that all over town again. And remember that Hurricane Delta was the 10th named storm to make landfall in the U.S. during a single hurricane season. That's never happened before.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's incredible. John, you spent the night in Lafayette. Tell us what that was like.
BURNETT: Well, Delta was a breathtaking weather system.
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BURNETT: The eastern edge of the eye went right over us here in Lafayette. I mean, Lulu, I've covered a lot of these tropical cyclones over the years and they never cease to awe me. The rain blows sideways and these rippling sheets and the wind comes in great gusts and you - it strains the limbs and the buildings. And then, everything fell quiet around 7 o'clock. And I was tempted to take a stroll on to the University of Louisiana campus, which is right next to us, and see how all those big live oak trees had done. And then as quickly as the wind stopped, it roared to life again. And then the power went out and the city went dark. And all you heard is the relentless wind and things breaking and flailing. And you wonder what the city is going to look like when dawn comes.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's terrifying. Were you able to talk to anybody where you are to get the reactions to the hurricane?
BURNETT: I did. Just before it got really bad outside, I drove around town looking for something to eat and I came on a big red taco truck on University Avenue. It was bucking and shaking in these early hurricane winds, but there was an open sign in the windshield. It was Taqueria El Dolar, the dollar taco truck. And I went up to the window and found the proprietor, Miguel Brambila (ph), who made me a plate of pork and beef tacos, and he said I was their only customer in three hours.
MIGUEL BRAMBILA: (Speaking Spanish).
BURNETT: He said all the other restaurants are closed and whether it rains or snows, we'll always be open. We have to eat and this is how we make money. He said they were a little afraid of the winds, but if it got too bad, they were going to shut down and hunker down in their houses. And then his partner, Danielle Carillo (ph), spoke up. And because it's election season, he got a little political.
DANIELLE CARILLO: (Speaking Spanish).
BURNETT: He said, you know, talking about President Trump, he said he can't throw us out. We're the ones who are working the hardest, doing the work Americans don't want to do. And he concluded just like this, selling tacos in the middle of a hurricane. And sure enough, Lulu, as far as I could tell, Taqueria El Dolar was the only place to get a hot meal in Lafayette during Hurricane Delta.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Oh, I'm sure we'll be hearing what happened to them in this storm. NPR's John Burnett speaking to us from Lafayette, La. Thank you very much.
BURNETT: It's a pleasure.
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GARCIA-NAVARRO: And that's a first for Saturday, October 10. I'm Lulu Garcia-Navarro.
SIMON: I'm Scott Simon. UP FIRST, back Monday with news to start your week. In the meantime, you can follow us on social media. We're @upfirst on Twitter. And keep an ear on this feed for occasional special episodes.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You can hear more on the hurricane, as well as the virus and the presidential campaign, on the air. We've got those stories. And China says it's OK to party post-COVID. And influencers in space and book and music interviews all on Weekend Edition.
SIMON: That's right. Every Saturday and Sunday morning, you can find your NPR station at stations.npr.org.
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