Covid-19 Crisis Worsens, Trump Speaks, Million MAGA March : Up First Another record-shattering week of Coronavirus infections as the U.S. moves closer to the holiday season. In his first public appearance in a week, President Trump addresses the pandemic but says nothing about conceding the election. Trump supporters gather in Washington, D.C. to support their president. It's an event that is likely to attract extremists.
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Covid-19 Crisis Worsens, Trump Speaks, Million MAGA March

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

It was the longest stretch of silence from President Donald Trump since he took office.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Almost a week after Joe Biden became president-elect, Trump returned to the public stage but not to concede.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm Lulu Garcia-Navarro.

SIMON: And I'm Scott Simon. And this is UP FIRST from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Speaking from the Rose Garden, Trump acknowledged the growing crisis as the U.S. hits a record number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus.

SIMON: He assured Americans the vaccine is on the horizon for almost everyone.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: As soon as April, the vaccine will be available to the entire general population, with the exception of places like New York State.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Every place but New York - we'll try to explain.

SIMON: And the Million MAGA March comes to Washington, D.C. The president said he might stop by and say hello. Will there be huge crowds of supporters? Stay with us. We've got the news you need to start your weekend.

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SIMON: The numbers of new confirmed daily coronavirus infections are staggering. It is hard to overstate how much the spread of the coronavirus has accelerated this past week.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This is how Dr. Preeti Malani at the University of Michigan sees the situation.

PREETI MALANI: This is a really dangerous time as we're going into the holiday season. And people are tired. And it's not too late. We can still turn things around. But it's going to require a big effort.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Will Stone covers the pandemic for NPR and joins us now. Hi, Will.

WILL STONE, BYLINE: Hi.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Bad news - we know things have spiraled in the past few weeks. But give us a sense of the scale here.

STONE: Yeah. Even for those of us who watch these numbers daily, it's been a shocking week. It took the U.S. a long time to reach 100,000 cases in a single day. And that just happened last week. And now we're already averaging about 140,000 cases a day. In the speed it's rising, it doesn't seem like 200,000 is that far off.

And just to put that in perspective, that's like everybody in Salt Lake City getting infected every day.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Wow.

STONE: Cases are close to - 80% have risen nationwide since the beginning of the month. And now the number of people in the hospital for COVID is close to 70,000. And that's well above the peak in the spring and the summer.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what's in the toolbox? I mean, what can be done when things get as bad as they are right now? I mean, is it going to take more than what we've heard all the time - the mask-wearing, the social distancing?

STONE: If everyone did that, it would still go a long way. Modelers at the University of Washington estimate mask use is close to 70%. And if it bumped up to 95%, that could save nearly 70,000 lives by March. But remember, there are still quite a few states without a universal mass mandate. And the reality is states may also need to shut down or at least put in place more restrictions.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, I'm sure everyone hearing that - you know, their heart sinks. I mean, does it mean we're going to see full lockdowns like we did in the spring?

STONE: No one wants to see those sweeping shutdowns of the economy again with the impact on jobs, on people's health. But states are hoping there is a middle ground. They're running out of options, though. And New Mexico just did a stay-at-home order.

Here's the governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, pleading with people who might be infected to take it seriously.

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MICHELLE LUJAN GRISHAM: You may not, you shall not - do not go to work in an essential business. People are going to work. You are spreading this virus. And it's out of control.

STONE: And more states are moving in this direction. Oregon has a partial lockdown. And in the northeast, parts of California, restaurants and other businesses are closing.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So, Will, can that help bring the situation under control?

STONE: The people I have spoken to hope it will at least slow the spread to relieve the pressure on hospitals in the short term. But the fact is, the U.S. doesn't have a coordinated national strategy. So states are really backed into a corner at this point. This is what Dr. Michael Mina at Harvard sees playing out as we head further into the winter.

MICHAEL MINA: We're going to see sputtering of shutdowns in the same way that we kind of saw only haphazard shutdowns in March, April and May. And my concern is that this is going to lead to the worst of all options, where we're going to have massive economic destruction and the virus is barely going to be dented at a national level.

STONE: Now, Mina has advocated for a nationwide rapid testing program where people can easily check their status. That hasn't come to pass. And he says a national lockdown for four, six weeks could help pump the brakes. But, again, the federal government needs to be involved to make it work. And right now, hospitals are in crisis. And in many states, they say they're nearing capacity.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's reporter Will Stone. Thank you very much.

STONE: Thank you.

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TRUMP: Ideally, we won't go to a lockdown. I will not go - this administration will not be going to a lockdown. Hopefully, the - whatever happens in the future, who knows which administration will be? I guess time will tell.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was President Trump yesterday evening in what were his first public remarks since his loss to former vice president, now President-elect Joe Biden.

SIMON: As you just heard, Trump did not concede the election, but he did give an update on his administration's efforts on the coronavirus vaccine.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Joining us now to discuss the president's comments is NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe. Good morning.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This was President Trump's first public press conference since the election. What was his message?

RASCOE: He focused on Operation Warp Speed, which is his administration's effort to push vaccine development. And he provided an optimistic timeline on when a coronavirus vaccine will be available to the public. He continued to say the surging numbers of infections are because of lots of testing, which is not true. And he criticized New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has expressed concern about the vaccine. And Trump said the vaccine won't be delivered to New York because of Cuomo's skepticism. Here's more from him.

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TRUMP: He doesn't trust the fact that it's this White House, this administration. So we won't be delivering it to New York until we have authorization to do so. And that pains me to say that. This is a very successful, amazing vaccine at 90% and more. But - so the governor, Governor Cuomo, will have to let us know when he's ready for it. Otherwise, we can't be delivering it to a state that won't be giving it to its people immediately.

RASCOE: So we don't know how serious President Trump was about that or whether his administration will still be around when it comes to distributing the vaccine to New York. It is important to note the president did not take any questions, and the White House staff began clapping as reporters shouted out questions about the results of the elections and whether he would concede. So even though he gave public remarks, he still has not taken questions from the press.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So Trump spoke to the country a few days after the election. He made false claims about fraud. But since Joe Biden became president-elect, we've been waiting to hear what Trump has to say specifically about the election. I mean, was there any mention of it, yesterday?

RASCOE: He didn't talk about it except for that one clip that you played at the beginning where he kind of acknowledged a potential future administration. His campaign is continuing to challenge the results of the elections, but its claims have not been successful in the courts. I have to point out, once again, that Biden is leading Trump in key states by thousands of votes, and no recount or legal challenge is likely to change that.

The Trump campaign strategy, though, is to fight or at least look like they're putting up a fight. Vice President Pence told a conservative group yesterday that they will continue the legal battle against the results of the presidential election. Pence said it's about protecting the integrity of the ballot. But it must be stressed, once again, that there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud or that ballots have been compromised.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And we should say our own reporting says Trump's legal avenues are closing. Courts in Pennsylvania and Michigan shot down the Trump challenges, just recently. Let's turn to the president-elect. Biden received a COVID briefing from his own advisers. His advisers are saying his team is not getting any cooperation from the government right now. What did Biden have to say?

RASCOE: So just ahead of Trump's remarks, Biden issued a statement. And he said it would be many months before most Americans get to take a vaccine despite efforts to develop and distribute the vaccine, quickly. He basically said that the virus is not waiting around, and he won't be president until January. So he called on the Trump administration to take action now, to give more resources to hospitals and for more resources for testing and to provide clearer guidance. He said that this crisis demands a robust and immediate federal response, which has been woefully lacking.

Biden also, you know, renewed his call for Americans to wear masks, to maintain social distancing, wash your hands. He said he understands that it's not easy, that people are tired. But he stressed that this will not go on forever and that the country can get through it together. But there has to be some shared responsibility and shared action.

SIMON: That's NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe. Thank you very much.

RASCOE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Supporters of President Trump are gathering in Washington, D.C., today for an event they billed as the Million MAGA March.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany says the turnout will be quite large. But while the size of the crowd remains to be seen, the nation's capital is bracing for unrest.

Yesterday, Trump signaled his approval of the rally in a tweet.

SIMON: NPR's Hannah Allam joins us now. She's been covering the city's preparation and will be heading out to the rally today. Hannah, thanks so much for being with us.

HANNAH ALLAM, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning.

SIMON: Do we know who's coming?

ALLAM: Well, all sorts of groups have said they're coming. And they're all pretty much animated by their support for President Trump and the spaceless idea that the election was rigged or stolen. So yeah. You've got the Stop The Steal activists that's kind of the umbrella. And then there's a mix of conservative Republicans, conspiracy theorists, militia-style groups, even some white nationalists. Basically, we're expecting the same blend of Trump loyalists and far-right activists we've seen at lockdown protests over the summer. And, indeed, they're using many of those same connections and channels that they established over the summer to get people out this time.

SIMON: And what kind of reception do you think they're likely to get in Washington, D.C.?

ALLAM: Yeah. This is D.C. It's just not as easy for them to put on a big show here. It's overwhelmingly Democratic. It's diverse. You can't openly carry guns. It's home to a big and vocal activist set on the left. And those activists have been out all summer. They're the ones behind the creation of Black Lives Matter Plaza in front of the White House, the ones who were teargassed by police. And so on the left, they're also organizing around today's event and calling on people to come out and counterprotest. And, you know, just a reminder, we're in a pandemic. And so that's one of many wildcards when it comes to turnout today.

SIMON: How do the organizers of this event see success? What's the goal?

ALLAM: It depends on the group. But broadly, it seems to be a show of support for Trump, a rejection of the actual election results. And there's a lot of other fringe and conspiracy stuff baked in. But again, this is a well-oiled network by now. These same elements have come together like this for lockdown protest, to, quote, "fight antifa," to imagine showdowns in various cities.

And extremism analysts I've spoken with about the rally warned against getting too caught up in crowd sizes today because they're saying, whatever the turnout, they find it troubling that so many extremist and fringe groups are involved and are trying to find common cause.

Brian Levin, a hate and extremism researcher at Cal State San Bernardino, told me, think of the rally as only the public face of a deeper, potentially dangerous rage over the election and other divisions in the country.

BRIAN LEVIN: The thing that I think we have to do is to make sure that we're looking at a wide angle rather than a small one because irrespective of the crowd, the fact that this is being organized shows that the hard, hard right is angling for some kind of activity to show that they have some potency.

ALLAM: And so, I mean, again, President Trump tweeted his support for this event, which, coming from the bully pulpit of the president, is validation. And it seems to be another example of how the Trump era has opened up space for conspiracy theorists and extremists.

SIMON: NPR's Hannah Allam will be covering the Million MAGA March later today. Thanks so much for being with me.

ALLAM: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And that's UP FIRST for Saturday, November 14, 2020. I'm Lulu Garcia-Navarro.

SIMON: And I'm Scott Simon. UP FIRST is back Monday with news to start your week. You can follow us on social media. We're @upfirst on Twitter.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We also think you'll like NPR's afternoon podcast. It's called Consider This. It dives deep on one issue to help you make sense of the day.

SIMON: On the latest episode of Consider This, why a delayed presidential transition is dangerous for national security. Experts with firsthand experience weigh in. You can listen to that episode now.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And for more news, interviews, books and music, you can find us on the radio.

SIMON: Weekend Edition, Saturday and Sunday mornings - find your NPR station at stations.npr.org.

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