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News Brief: Coronavirus Response Is To Keep People Apart

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Broadcasting live from my basement because the White House is now recommending that all of us avoid groups of 10 or more people.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

That is some of the guidance from President Trump for at least the next 15 days.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We have an invisible enemy. We have a problem that a month ago nobody ever thought about.

INSKEEP: Now, the latter part of that statement is false, that nobody thought about this a month ago. Public health experts warned of and planned for a pandemic for years and more than a month ago warned of this specific pandemic. The president was downplaying the threat at that time. Amid statements like that, a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll shows a lack of trust in the president's statements. Only 37% of those responding say they have a good amount or a great deal of trust in what he says; 60% do not. That noted, states and local governments are taking the latest White House recommendations and adding them to their own measures.

MARTIN: Joining us now - NPR's global health and development correspondent Jason Beaubien to walk through those measures. Hey, Jason.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

MARTIN: All right. So we shouldn't gather in groups of 10 or more people. This came from the White House...

BEAUBIEN: Right.

MARTIN: ...What else did the president recommend?

BEAUBIEN: You know, in many ways, it is very common-sense stuff. But it's also fairly dramatic, the ask that's being made on a national level. And unless you're in a critical infrastructure industry such as health care or the pharmaceutical industry or the food industry, they're saying stay home. Have your kids stay home. Work from home. Avoid any discretionary travel. And especially if you're sick, stay home. And don't go to nursing homes.

MARTIN: Right.

BEAUBIEN: And they're also giving some guidance if someone in your household does test positive for this - everyone in the household should stay home. Don't rush to a hospital. Call your doctor, and then they'll take it from there. And again, they're saying, take care of yourself. Wash your hands.

MARTIN: You know what struck me? The president's tone...

BEAUBIEN: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...Was different when he was laying out these recommendations. We didn't see the bellicosity. He was...

BEAUBIEN: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...He was deferring to the health officials, while he had been trying to downplay this for several weeks.

BEAUBIEN: Yeah. There definitely is a shift here. And you're seeing it globally. I mean, this is - there is a major change that is occurring. But again, what's coming from the federal government, these are recommendations. You know, it's a way to put together some national guidance because state and local officials were basically putting out all these other orders with even more stringent restrictions.

You know, he's ordering the country, except for this critical infrastructure, to slow down significantly. Some people were calling for even more. Some people thought we might see a quarantine like you're seeing in some parts of Europe. You know, this is short of that. But it's still - it's pretty unprecedented in an effort to stop this public health crisis that we're facing.

MARTIN: I mean, meanwhile, as you have pointed out, certain municipalities or state leadership has taken these recommendations and taken them much further, right? We have seen this...

BEAUBIEN: Right.

MARTIN: ...In San Francisco Bay area where residents are expected to, quote, "shelter in place." Can you just explain what that means right now?

BEAUBIEN: I mean, it means you're not even supposed to be going outside except to, you know, obtain or perform vital services, you know, and the scope of this is pretty significant. Seven to 8 million people are being told to stay home as much as they possibly can. You know, if they do go out, you're supposed to keep six feet distance from each other.

You know, violations could be punished as a misdemeanor. But the police chief there is basically saying they're trying not to do that. They want to, you know, have people do this voluntarily. And that's how they're going to try to enforce this.

MARTIN: Just real quick, Jason, is that on par with the number of cases there? I mean, does that measure up?

BEAUBIEN: Basically, this shows that we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg. Officials are really concerned. And they want these measures in place right away.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Jason Beaubien, thank you.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome.

MARTIN: All of this, of course, is happening while we're in the middle of a presidential election, right? And we are starting to see concerns over the virus affect the race.

INSKEEP: Yeah, like in Ohio, where Governor Mike DeWine has postponed today's primary election. He said yesterday that Americans, especially those over 65 and at risk, should not have to ignore health warnings in order to vote.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIKE DEWINE: We should not force them to make this choice, a choice between their health and their constitutional rights and their duties as American citizens.

INSKEEP: Governor DeWine declared a public health emergency in order to keep polls closed.

MARTIN: All right. We've got NPR's Pam Fessler with us. Pam, just explain - explain what happened in Ohio.

PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: Well, it was really astonishing. Yesterday, the governor said that it didn't make sense to go ahead with this primary when many voters were being told to stay home and away from crowds. So he proposed that they delay it until June 2 and allow absentee voting to continue until then. But then later in the evening, a Franklin County judge disagreed, said he was reluctant to make such a change so close to the primary, especially because state officials couldn't guarantee that things were going to be any safer in June.

So poll workers, who had earlier been told in the day not to show up this morning, were then told they should show up. But then late last night, the governor issued a statement saying it was impossible to hold the primary. And around 10:30 p.m., he announced that the state health director was going to declare this health emergency and shut down the polls. So there's no primary today.

MARTIN: So how and when are the good people of Ohio going to vote?

FESSLER: Well, that's a really good question. That's still up in the air. The governor said that the secretary of state, Frank LaRose, is going to go to court to try and seek some remedy to extend voting, presumably asking the court to reschedule the in-person primary later and to continue absentee voting.

MARTIN: OK. Meanwhile, there are primaries happening in three other states today - right? - Illinois, Arizona and Florida. What's happening there?

FESSLER: Right. So those three states are going ahead today. The officials have tried to make a lot of accommodations because of the virus. They've been actually losing hundreds, probably - maybe even thousands of poll workers, who are just worried about spending so much time in close contact with other people. So they've had to find backup poll workers. They had to shut down and consolidate polling locations. So today, they're going to try and make sure that people get to whatever polling site they can get to, what the proper one is for them.

Even in Chicago, they said they're going to actually be signing up poll workers today if people volunteer because they're that understaffed. These states have all been telling voters to vote early or absentee if they can. But, you know, today, really, their options are very, very limited. So if they want to vote, they, for the most part, have to show up in person unless they're just delivering their absentee ballots.

MARTIN: I mean, we've heard this before, but so many of...

FESSLER: And then there, of course, is...

MARTIN: I'm sorry to interrupt. There's just so many of those people who work in those polls, Pam. They're elderly people, right? They're the people who are the most vulnerable in this moment.

FESSLER: Exactly. Exactly. That's exactly what's happening. It's just - you know, it's really quite a mess.

MARTIN: And so the 20 states that are left with primaries, any indication on how those are going to go?

FESSLER: Yeah. We've already seen delays. Kentucky, Georgia and Louisiana have already announced that they're postponing their votes until either late May or June. And other states are looking at that option, including Alabama. And Maryland's thinking about making their April 28 primary vote by mail. So we're going to be seeing a lot of changes...

MARTIN: OK.

FESSLER: ...In the coming days.

MARTIN: NPR's Pam Fessler, we appreciate it.

FESSLER: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: All right. So now we're going to pivot. We're going to look across the Atlantic to Spain.

INSKEEP: Where, on Monday, the government announced it is closing Spain's land borders following Germany's lead. Germany says it's going to impose travel restrictions on most of its borders. The EU is proposing a 30-day ban on unnecessary travel throughout the entire bloc of European nations. Now, on Saturday, all of Spain was put on quarantine. People are being ordered to stay at home for two weeks. But every day at 8 o'clock in the evening, people come out of their homes and applaud.

(APPLAUSE)

INSKEEP: This nightly ovation is a tribute to the country's health care workers.

MARTIN: I love that. So we've got reporter Lucia Benavides with us now. Lucia, where are you and what's happening?

LUCIA BENAVIDES, BYLINE: So I'm usually based in Barcelona. But right now, I'm in a small Catalan town called Moia, which is about an hour away from the city. My boyfriend is from here. And his family lives here. And lots of people did like me and fled the city to be with families in the countryside this week. Nearly everything here is closed - cafes, restaurants, schools, libraries, stores.

In Barcelona, all the public parks and museums are closed, too, as they are throughout Spain. That's because of the government-mandated quarantine. And we can't leave our houses except for a few exceptions - if we have an emergency, if we need to get to health care clinic or if we need to buy food. Those of us who still have to head to work can also leave the house. And we're also allowed to walk the dog. But we can face fines of more than $1,000 for not cooperating. And there are...

MARTIN: Wow.

BENAVIDES: ...Police all over the country monitoring the streets.

MARTIN: So we've been talking so much about how this is exposing the vulnerabilities of health care systems around the world. Is that the case in Spain?

BENAVIDES: Yeah. So right now, Spain is the European country with the second highest number of cases after Italy. This morning, there were nearly 10,000 cases and more than 340 deaths. The number of cases are increasing rapidly, around 1,000 new cases a day. And so there's worry of overwhelming the health care system here, essentially of there not being enough medical staff or equipment for every sick patient that comes in.

And in Spain, actually, there's universal health care. It's free of cost for everyone living here. And it's considered among the best in the world. But there are also private hospitals and physicians. Though, now the government has nationalized them all because of the crisis.

MARTIN: What about the economy? I mean, Spain was one of the countries that was hit the hardest in the 2008 financial crisis. How is it trying to...

BENAVIDES: Right.

MARTIN: ...To protect itself in this moment financially?

BENAVIDES: Right. So political analysts are actually saying that there's tension within the Spanish government because there are those who want to prevent another economic crisis and so are pushing for measures that will protect businesses and banks first and foremost. And then there are those who want to protect the public health and are pushing for measures that will ensure people stay home and not engage in large groups. But for now, the Spanish government has left it up to companies themselves to decide whether their employees go to work. And so a lot of companies are still asking their employees to come in.

MARTIN: All right. Lucia Benavides is reporting from the town of Moia, Spain. We appreciate it.

BENAVIDES: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF BSD.U'S "FRENCH INHALE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.